Applying conventional ad models are the wrong way to approach in-game ads, says a former advertiser turned advergame designer.  In a video interview with Abbey Klaassen of Ad Age, Kevin Slavin, managing director of advergame maker Area/Code, discusses inherent differences between games and other forms of media and how they should affect the way advertisers look at in-game branding.

One of Slavin’s key arguments is how display, perhaps the oldest form of advertising, is completely ineffective in video games.  Display has comfortably transitioned through various ad vehicles.  Draw a fun line from the sandwich board to the billboard to print ads and now online banner ads, and it can be argued that each platform had the same properties facilitating what display ads are designed to do.  The goal is garner attention and leave an impression, and the recipe to get there is good creative and proper placement.

Slavin sees a different reality for brands displayed in games.  He uses an analogy with roadside billboards.  In the real world, he points out, the most effective roadside billboards are the ones placed where drivers are likely to have time to kill.  To reinforce his point, think of how the most mundane ads can become study pieces at long traffic lights and jammed expressways.  Those situations would rarely if ever exist in a game, where he argues gamers are more likely to be racing past that virtual billboard than pausing by it.  The analogy certainly extends beyond roadsides, considering whether ads are displayed in a sports arena, a race track or any other game environment, the person intended to see it is going to be preoccupied even if not on the move.

How does an advertiser get around a game player s preoccupation   Slavin echoes what most in-game ad companies are arguing: become part of the preoccupation.  As a former advertiser, he breaks it down in somewhat scientific terms.  Successful messaging leverages a medium’s mode of communication with its users.  In print, TV and online display, the mode is passive communication, user action is observation, and the key to messaging is to be quick and compact.  Games are completely different in all three areas.  Their system of communication is interactivity, user action is a behavior, and whatever the message is in the game, be it a storyline or a final objective, it is designed to take place over a long period of time.  A successful in-game branding effort needs to incorporate itself into all three.  Slavin doesn’t refer to it, but the game industry has perhaps its earliest standard-setting effort in the way Palm PDAs were incorporated into the original Splinter Cell.

As an aside, Slavin makes an interesting observation extending from his media analysis to pinpoint the difference between communities that form online around viral campaigns versus video games.  He labels the former as simply a crowd, where people are gathering and inviting friends to observe something such as a viral video.  Conversely, a group that forms around a game is sharing an activity, making them a true online community.

Watch the full video interview at Ad Age {link no longer active}.