EA’s new ‘Your Mom Hates This‘ ad campaign for Dead Space 2 is one of the stupidest, most short sighted marketing moves I’ve ever seen. It will come back to bite EA almost without question, but more importantly it will come back to bite all of us who want to see the gaming business mature and garner respect.

Back in the late 90s there was a huge broohaha when the FTC said RJ Reynolds’ Joe Camel ads were a deliberate attempt to market cigarettes to minors. That single ad campaign quickly created a perception in the American mind that cigarette companies were flatly evil and astronomical tobacco settlement cases are part of the 90’s zeitgeist. What EA is doing with this ad campaign is even more blatant and is likely to launch a whole new barrage of class-action lawsuits from the folks who are already convinced that video games create Columbines.

I’ll skip past the question of wisdom in making a game whose main selling point seems to be the wide number of ways a player can dismember his enemies – my beef here is strictly with how they are choosin to pitch this thing. If you haven’t seen the ads, check this out.

0:01 – This game is rated M – meaning it’s not supposed to be for anybody under 17 years of age.
0:11 – VO: “A mom’s disapproval has always been an accurate barometer of what is cool…”
remainder: [show various mothers’ shocked reactions and condemning comments]
Synthesis: If you’re of an age where minor acts of filial rebellion are important to you (read: if you’re about 13-15) then Dead Space 2 is what you want your parent to buy for you…because obviously it’s illegal for a store to sell the game to you directly.

What are you thinking EA? You are poisoning the well!

For one thing, the ESA has done great work to show that the average gamer is not a rebellion teen-aged boy but in fact a 30-something adult and almost as likely to be a woman as a man. And as such, there have been great strides made in the way we tell stories in this medium to recognize and appeal to our grown up audience. Yes, there will always be kids game, but that’s not where the age curve is right now. So why would they choose to market this game specifically to the demo off the centerline?

Second, have you completely forgotten the gigantic mess the Hot Coffee controversy caused for the entire industry, not to mention an estimated $50B in lost revenue for the entire industry? Do you really want Congress looking all of our collective shoulders again?

Will the ad campaign work? Yeah, it probably will. But it deliberately undercuts the self-regulatory nature of the ESRB. I’m pretty certain EA would assert that the ads target 17 year-olds but that line is plainly BS to anybody who sees the ad. 17 year olds don’t really care mom thinks any more – 13 year olds do.

EA – please – we are all working here to bring the game industry to a place where the broader social perception is that we are responsible adults who take our craft seriously. That we create both art and entertainment that respects and accounts for the fabric of American culture by policing ourselves and providing meaningful information (through the ESRB) to consumers and especially parents.

The controversy and class action suits that a foolish campaign like this can bring is a threat to all of us.

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8 Comments
  1. Radiago713

    On the subject of the girl in the COD commercial, whether or not the actor is over 18 doesn’t matter if her character isn’t. To illustrate my point, this last week an episode of Glee aired which showed many members of the cast drinking alchohol. While it’s true that most if not all of the actors are of age to drink, they portray characters of highschool age, which leads to the uncomfortable suggestion that they are promoting underage drinking. The same logic applies in the COD:BO case, where the actor may be over 18, but if her character isn’t, then they are still supporting kids playing mature games. Now, it is a much more gray area, since it isn’t explicitly stated that she’s a child, but I feel that the impression is given to the degree that it’s a safe bet. Obviously there’s enough wiggle room on that to allow for healthy debate, however.

  2. Dreamer

    @Lennie Crout,

    I don’t think Treyarch and Activision were promoting underage playing of ‘Mature’ games. I found a link about that girl: http://www.gamepolitics.com/2010/11/22/your-black-ops-shotgun-girl

    It was also stated in another forum where the subject was brought up that all actors in the commercial were 18 or older.

  3. Radiago713

    I disagree with you, Joey. The ESRB defines the appropriate audience for a game. One of the conditions of attaining an ESRB rating is that a game cannot be marketed for an audience under the age it was rated for. The retailers then enforce that by not allowing those minors to buy games deemed inappropriate for them. A parent can still buy the game for the minor, however. In addition, most retailers won’t carry a game that isn’t rated by the ESRB, much like most theaters won’t show a film that hasn’t been rated by the MPRS.

  4. Joey – I think that’s a distinction without a difference. The law doesn’t say 12 year-olds can’t SMOKE cigarettes. It says they can’t BUY them. Just like it’s OK for a minor to attend an R rated movie with a guardian, but they aren’t supposed to be able to go themselves.

    To use the movie analogy – it’d be like advertising SAW to 13 year olds. Hey kids, this movie is bloody and gruesome! Get your parents to buy you a ticket!
    It’s completely against the spirit of the rating system which is one of the only things that has kept Washington (relatively) out of Hollywood – the expectation that the industry regulates itself.

  5. I disagree. The ESRB dictates who can buy games and nothing more. They don’t decide who should and shouldn’t play them. The whole point of the ads were to inspire minors to ask their parents to purchase the game for them, not for the minors to buy the game themselves.

    I also don’t think there are any parallels between this ad campaign and cigarettes. The situations are hardly related.

  6. Lennie Crout

    I agree with this post down to my core being. What EA will bring to the gaming community with this ad campaign is a historic loss of progress that all developers have found in the last seven years since Rockstar rocked the community back to the stone age. IMHO this ad was allowed because of Treyarch and Activision’s decision to use a young women under the age of 17 to promote “Call of Duty: Black Ops” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pblj3JHF-Jo you can see her give the “smirk” at 16 seconds in). Treyarch and Activision got away with it because the whole world came down on Kobe Bryant for being part of an ad campaign the is anti-troops (I don’t agree with anti Kobe statement but that is what happened [Note Blazer Fan so I don’t like Kobe, just think the trolls got the wrong issue]).

    I bet EA figured no one cared that the commercial had a “broad target audience that included underage gamers” so why should anyone care that an ad campaign that uses the slogan “what mom hates is cool”. When in reality this is just the continuation of a slippery slope that will bring back the degradation of the gaming community in the public eyes.

  7. Radiago713

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad I’m not one of the developers of that game, because I would be fuming about how it was marketed. It is obviously meant for mature audiences. It’s too bad EA isn’t among them.

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