99 problems: the soundtrack is one

Gaming and advertising are converging. In-game advertising has been around for years, according to Wikipedia:  “The earliest known IGA was the 1978 computer game Adventureland, which inserted a self-promotional advertisement for its next game, Pirate Adventure. The earliest known commercial IGA occurred in 1991 when a spot for Penguin biscuits appeared in James Pond – RoboCod.”

On the flip side, games are becoming as costly to make, and as profitable as Hollywood films and in many cases more so. Gamers now represent a broad market with niches for particular types of games and game platforms. Advertising therefore needs to reflect that sophistication.

One of the biggest launches of this year is the first person shooter (FPS) Battlefield 3 from Electronic Arts. The game sold more than five million copies in its first week.

Battlefield 3 TV advert
Battlefield 3 TV advert - November 2011

Prime time TV advertising is an appropriate channel for such a big selling title, primarily evening slots given it’s PEGI 16 rating . The advert currently being shown uses Jay Z’s song 99 problems as a backing track. The main refrain to this song is “99 problems but a bitch ain’t one”. Naturally this could offend some people so they have muted the word “bitch”.

Whatever your thoughts on this lyric, it begs the question: why did the marketing team use this track? It’s an odd decision. Firstly you’ve got a game centred around players killing each other and blowing occupied vehicles up. It’s considered pretty gory. So the song is unlikely to offend the game’s target demographic. Therefore the decision must have been based on the expectation that it would offend some people. So why not pick another backing track? 99 Problems has a great riff and certainly suits the advert but it’s very odd to hear what’s generally considered a mild word censored (twice, in a 30 second slot) in this context.

The only explanation I can think of is that the team behind it paid royalties for the song before they had the advert approved for use, and therefore had to use it. Either that or it was just a poorly thought through choice of music. Neither presents the advert’s producers in a good light.

Movie trailers are pored over by critics and film fans, the same is increasingly true of game adverts. If the game industry can’t market their products properly, who’s to say they will struggle to use in-game marketing effectively, a source of revenue they can ill afford to lose?



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