MediaMedia PlanningDr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

Does gaming have a negative or positive impact on society?

If marketers seek brand association with positive or negative experiences and emotions, where does gaming fall in the spectrum? The answer depends on the brand identity you seek. The game industry offers positive and negative elements that can be tapped to define and amplify your brand’s voice.

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is arguably the definitive literal work of the dichotomy of man. More than just a fictional horror story, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde leaves us identifying with both man and monster. The book depicts a main character that is the protagonist and antagonist, a man who represents mankind. Dr. Jekyll embodies our potential to benefit society through good works and Mr. Hyde is a reflection on our unchecked ID — and possesses an innate predisposition to do evil.

This fictional work is analogous to the impact that gaming is having on society. A marketer can utilize negative or positive channels to build a brand and reinforce a message.

Mr. Hyde

The evil monster view of the game industry is, unfortunately, widely embraced. Generally, the worst of the industry is sensationalized and devoured by many that may have never even played a game.

Jack Thompson, a lawyer who many see as a crusader against the negative influences of gaming, has aligned himself, a human brand, against the “evil” of the industry to much acclaim, disdain, and attention, and he’s pushed for legal action to address his concerns. Whether he’s right or wrong about gaming doesn’t matter to us as marketers. What matters is how effective he’s been spotlighting the underbelly of the game industry for gain.

Another example of tapping negative game industry perceptions for gain is the Partnership For A Drug-Free New Jersey campaign. I cringe at the ads, which take an innocent activity — boys playing video games — and positions them as a forum for drug use.

Though I dislike the message, the ads are effective. They tap a parent’s fears and lack of understanding about gaming, deliver the worst-case scenario as commonplace, and benefit by confirming concern and suspicion about game play. The organization taps negative perception to deliver its message, plays up the need for parental oversight of children’s activities, and creates dialogues between parent and child about drug use.

Dr. Jekyll

A less widely held view of gaming and the game industry is that of societal benefactor. Misconceptions of gamers and sensational coverage of negative correlations between gaming and criminal activity tend to overshadow the positive impact games have on society.

However, below the surface, games that provide family entertainment, offer constructive outlets, or educate and train players are gaining momentum and attention. The application of games to make a positive impact on society is just beginning to be realized and utilized.

The Wii serves as a case study of gaming’s inherent good. Nintendo went against popular opinion and developed a system that caters to family gaming as opposed to violent blockbusters. Looking at the success Nintendo has achieved through this approach, it becomes apparent that games that bring us together and cater to family values can turn a profit.

Not surprisingly Microsoft is trying to tap into this trend by touting the Xbox 360’s ability to deliver family-friendly games and experiences at this year’s E3 expo.

Another initiative that evidences the new face of gaming is Free Rice, a simple Web-based vocabulary game that serves to educate its players while ending world hunger. It’s an incredible case study of the impact games can have on education and charitable causes. Free Rice challenges players to define words through selecting from multiple choice answers. The game enhances player’s vocabulary and donates 20 grains of rice to end world hunger through the United Nations’ World Food Program for each word the player gets right.

Most notably, the game’s primary revenue stream is from advertising. The game affords marketers a channel to reach a large audience and a media plan with a purpose. Dollars spent within this advertising platform deliver eyeballs, and also go to a good cause.

As the game industry continues to be rewarded for delivering games that benefit society, more effort will be placed on development in this sector. Expect to see many more advertiser-funded charitable game initiatives that have a positive impact.

Looking at a roundup report from E3 this year, the industry’s ability to offer society a digital Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will continue in the foreseeable future. The highlights from the conference evidence an industry that applauds the family friendly direction. For example, karaoke games that bring the family together and give aspiring singers and songwriters a virtual studio to hone their talent are at the top of the “best of” lists.

Meanwhile, the announcement of a handheld version of “Grand Theft Auto” by video game developer Rockstar Games garnered just as much attention and media coverage. The highest-grossing black eye of the industry will continue to fuel the negative associations and misconceptions that dominate the thought processes of those who don’t play games.

Like the main character in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the game industry is not one or the other. It’s both. As marketers, we have the free will to choose which association best fits our brands and to leverage the games that amplify our message. A connection with the right game can outfit your brand with the persona of your choice and accelerate your efforts to create a memorable brand identity.

Thanks for you mindshare.


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