Videobama Games!

October 30th, 2008 by owenam

The Obama campaign has purchased ad space in 18 different video games, mostly racing and other sports games:

[A]ds for Obama’s presidential campaign have been spotted in Electronic Arts’ high-octane racer Burnout Paradise. An EA spokesperson today confirmed for GameSpot that the Xbox 360 version of the game has been playing host to Obama billboards since October 6. [...]

The EA representative said that the ads would appear in only 10 different states, most of them contested battleground states. Paradise City residents in Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wisconsin are being targeted by the campaign. In the 2004 presidential election, all of those states except Wisconsin went to Republican incumbent George W. Bush.

Apparently, McCain approached Hasbro regarding the possibility of buying ad space in Scrabble but was turned down.

But seriously, I think this is genius. It’s cheap advertising aimed at increasing voter turnout among a group that is (by conventional wisdom, and likely by campaign research as well) already pro-Obama, targeted at states where this will make the biggest difference.

The ads themselves are clearly tuned for the medium and for the audience: the screenshot in the article shows a billboard with a headshot of the candidate and simple, non-issue message: “Early voting has begun /”. Including the URI was of course a no-brainer; the rest of the message shows some thought. I suspect that the Obama campaign views gamers as likely supporters who see voting as a chore to be avoided — in no small part because of the (perceived) necessity of getting up early and standing in long lines at the dumpy old VFW. Instead of simply offering Rock the Vote-style encouragement (and the accompanying guilt!), the ads attempt to remove some of those barriers.

There’s one other interesting thing going on which may not have been intended by the ad’s designers but which nevertheless works in their favor. Video games of all genres have a strong history of encouraging exploration and experimentation on the part of the player — racing games will often reward inquisitive players with hidden shortcuts, and even a straightfoward sports simulation might include humorous easter eggs. Instead of just “Vote For Obama,” which offers nothing new, the ads say “early voting has begun” — a bit more coy, but more importantly it provides an opportunity for discovery: a game-playing, Obama-supporting unlikely voter might initially visit the advertised site (especially when it is a quick alt-tab away!) merely out of curiosity about this “early voting” (is it better than the crappy VFW kind?).