Dead Space 2's Ill-Advised Ad Campaign

Video game ads on television are often terrible. Being the sole member of the Silicon Sasquatch executive triumvirate who watches sports on TV on a regular basis, I'm also the one who gets exposed to a lot of the big-budget video game advertising campaigns. As a gamer with an interest in the business side of the industry, it's always interesting to see which games are trying to push for mainstream attention — and by what means.

That made the new Dead Space 2 advertisement currently getting national air time all that much worse. Go ahead and watch the ad -- it's right there at the top of the post. I can wait a minute for you.

Without sounding too flippant, let me just say: Thank you, Electronic Arts, for dragging videogames back 10 years in the public's eye.

There are a few significant things wrong with that ad:

  • The campaign implies that all gamers want is a healthy serving of the old ultraviolence, topped with extra violence with a serving of some blood and guts on the side. "It's everything you love in a game" is one of the more misguided and alienating quotes I've heard in a while.
  • It's trying to sell the game as a deplorable, hyper-violent “game your mom will hate” — to the degree that the website teased on the final title card is YourMomHatesThis.com.

I've seen the ad on TV and YouTube over and over, and I just can't get past how ill-advised the entire campaign appears to be. Let's start with the most egregious complaint: The thesis of the entire ad campaign is, essentially, "this game is awesome because it's all the things your mom will hate." That doesn't exactly seem like the strongest point of recommendation for the game. Not only is it a flimsy claim to make, but it's aimed at a specific target demographic — teenagers who listen to angsty music and say "no, fuck YOU, Dad!" — who happen to (generally) be younger than the game's listed Mature rating.

That is a real delicate point: I can't think of many adult gamers who are going to think the campaign is funny, let alone persuasive. Frankly, the "Your mom is going to HATE this" tactic really only resonates with teenagers. It looks like EA is trying to market directly at teenagers by taking this stance, and it’s worrying; there’s definitely an ethical issue in advertising an M-rated game to a demographic under the age of 18. And with the videogame industry already fighting to protect its freedom of speech, marketing a violent videogame to underage consumers isn't exactly the sort of press needed at this moment.

This ad campaign reeks of desperation. Dead Space was born in a period where Electronic Arts was trying to live up to its name, putting out risky games like Mirror's Edge and attempting to cater to critics as much as the mass audience. Clearly it hasn't been as successful as anticipated, so out come the gimmicks. It reeks of the shenanigans EA's marketing teams pulled trying to draw attention to Dante's Inferno last year, including splashing for a Super Bowl ad. They must be desperate for attention, seeing as how the Halo and Gears of War series have gone the subdued route in the past in advertising equally violent, equally M-rated games. And never mind the thought of what Fox News could do with these ads.

Subtlety suggests confidence in the product, but gimmicky, flashy, trashy advertising? Not so much. EA should show more confidence in Dead Space 2.