I picked up a PC World magazine this month, and in it I found a big colorful ad displaying a character that I knew right away was either drawn by Gabe of Penny Arcade, or was a direct rip-off of his art style.
I looked at the picture. Excellent, very evocative of a distinct pair of personalities. The image told a strong story just with a glance.
Nice picture, but is this an ad? Where was the message?
Oh, there it is, words wrapped lovingly around each rich curve and lush swooping angle.
I read the message and wondered aloud, “WTF?”
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one to wonder the same. No, a quick search on the internet showed me that “Penny Arcade ESRB” gets plenty of hits dating from 2006.
Well, I never pretended to be a relevant bear.
I do want to look at the design of the ad, and wonder aloud again, “WTF?”
Let’s take a look at the ad I saw in the magazine, a magazine printed for the 2011 November or December issue of PC World, I might add. It’s still a current ad. Apparently, they’re proud of it. And if you got Gabe to draw your ad, wouldn’t YOU want to show it off?
This is the Penny Arcade ad done for the ESRB called ‘The Andersons”.
Now, long time readers here know I love me some Penny Arcade. Just search, you’ll find Child’s Play drives and all that stuff on my website. And I love the images they did, I do. THis one speaks directly of a gamer and his willing but struggling dad. And it’s sweet, rather than snarky.
It’s the message of this as an advertisement I’m scorning. /scorn.
Riddle me this, Batman. Who is the target audience for ESRB ads in PC World?
Is it the young gamer looking for guidance from a rating on content?
No. This is PC World magazine, and young gamers aren’t going to be interested in the opinions of anyone other than their peers.
The target audience is, really, slightly out-of-touch parents that know enough about technology to have some grasp of where a clue might be found, cool enough to take in interest in what games their kids play and maybe even play with them, without being so reactionary that they ban all games as ‘The devil’s work”.
This person looks at that ad, sees that image, and the art of Penny Arcade compels you.
You should chant that as if you are a priest, banishing demons from kids stuck playing Sega Saturn while their friends are rocking Xbox 360’s;
“The Art of Penny Arcade Compels You!”
“The Art of Penny Arcade Compels You!”
You zoom in closer, entranced, and your eyes spy the text wrapped around the image.
Then you follow it back until you find the beginning of the sentence, because the bold face type first draws your eye but that’s not where the sentence starts, “Where the hell is the start of this thing? Oh, there it is.”
Not an auspicious beginning.
Then you read this message;
Because the Andersons play games, theres a system in place to make sure they bring home the right ones. This is how that system works; First, Mom and Dad select games using the ratings on the box. Step two, (continued on the other side of the image) everyone gets a controller. Step three, the kids win. This quality time is presented by the ESRB.
I gotta say, that’s just amazing to me, after 5 years that ad is still flying?
I don’t even want to dissect the message itself, but I have to say one thing.
Step one: Mom and Dad select games using the ratings on the box?
Really? Who out there initiates the game-buying event by going to the store, picking up the box, and selecting which ones to consider based on the ESRB rating?
Are we really supposed to be that clueless?
No. No, you either heard one was good, or you were asked by your kid to buy the game.
Or, you’re trying to get a gift for someone else’s kids and have no bloody idea if Wonder Pets Save The Amazon Rainforest has nudity or mature language.
I’m saying, your kid knows if they want to try it or not. You’re not flying completely blind, unless you are Grandma, in which case you don’t care who the ESRB is, you’re gonna do what they tell ya.
Your kid wants to play a game. They ask you to buy it for them, ’cause you’ve got the cash. Or the game has an ESRB rating that prevents the clerk from selling to your kids age bracket. Either way, you are the gateway to video game happiness.
You are entering this scenario as the parent, the responsible adult, asked to make an informed decision as to whether this game is appropriate for your children based on your own personal standards.
Pop quiz, hot shot. You know nothing of this game. Your smartphone has no reception, so you can’t look up reviews on your favorite gaming sites like an intelligent adult.
What do you do? What do you do?
You could say no, it’s always a viable alternative.
You could say yes, hoping for the best.
You could just buy it, play it yourself, and once you beat it decide if it’s acceptable for your kids.
Or, and this is a wild thought, you could check out the ESRB rating to get details on what you can expect to see in the game.
So, think about it. Did their message give you enough info to understand what they’re all about without actively looking at the back of a game box?
I don’t think so. When viewed without preconceived ideas of what the ESRB is, it came across to me a little threatening. If viewed a certain way, it almost seems to make a case that the ESRB wants to decide what your choices should be, incidentally giving them great power over game designers and publishers. “Do what we say, or we will bury your game with a bad rating, and parents won’t buy it.”
To my way of thinking, an advertisement should answer the following questions;
Who are you, what do you do, and why should I care/buy your product or service?
can we do any better?
I think we can. In a millisecond.
Just a thought, but how about this?
“ESRB: we play the games your kids want to play so you don’t have to.”
Who are you? The ESRB. What do you do? You play all the games and know what is in them. Why do I even care that you exist? Because with an ESRB rating on a box I can make an informed decision on the fly without having to play the game myself first.
I can just say, “Nope! The ratings on the box says this one has bad language and visceral decapitations, and I hate bad language. Hey Marge, what does visceral mean? Is that like my goddamn Crown Royal? Is there booze in this f’ing game?”
I love the image, but it takes more than great art to get your point across, and if you’re not clearly articulating your point with your ad, why the bloody heck are you running it in the first place?