Obama Targets Battleground States With Video Game Ads

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has taken political advertising into uncharted waters this month. In an advertising first, political ads for the Illinois senator have begun appearing on billboards in “Burnout: Paradise City,” a car-racing video game on the Xbox 360 console.

The game features a multiplayer element in which users can play against each other if they hook their Xbox consoles up to the Internet. When the game is connected to the Web, new advertisements can be placed on billboards that players see as they race through the streets.

Obama’s ad reads “Early voting has begun. Voteforchange.com. Paid for by Obama for President.”

The Gaming Gets Political

While initially there was speculation that images of the advertisement could have been faked, Electronic Arts, publisher of “Burnout,” has confirmed that the ads are legitimate.

“The campaign is a regional campaign that began on Oct. 6 and is running through Nov. 3,” Holly Rockwood, an EA spokesperson, told the E-Commerce Times.

The ads are running in 10 states: Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin. Although these states (with the exception of Wisconsin) were won by President George W. Bush in the 2004 election, many have become battleground states in this election cycle, where Obama and Republican nominee John McCain have been fighting tooth and nail for each vote.

The ads, according to Rockwood, may run in the larger states for as few as 10 days, with those scheduled in smaller states running the entire time span. They appear to target what is traditionally a much sought-after demographic.

“In general, the ‘Burnout’ audience is typically male, ages 18 to 34. I think the sweet spot age is 27 or 28. The attractive benefit any advertiser sees in advertising on a game like ‘Burnout’ is reaching that demographic,” Rockwood noted.

The ads were sold through Massive, a Microsoft owned in-game ad firm. Massive, according to Rockwood, also reached out to the McCain campaign to sell ads, but the Republican candidate passed.

Neither Obama nor McCain have opted to purchase ads for EA’s PlayStation 3 games through ad firm IGA, Rockwood added.

Advertising Smarts

Online ads can be very effective, said Karsten Weide, an IDC analyst.

“[That] is one reason why many advertisers move marketing budgets from the traditional media onto the Internet,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Although Weide cannot predict the effectiveness of political online ads in general, he believes the Obama in-game ads will work to grab the attention of game-playing voters.

“This Barack Obama ad is going to be very effective, because it is an unusual ad in a new and unusual marketing channel — in-game ads — so it is bound to get a lot of attention in the target group. Plus, because of this, it is also bound to get a lot of press coverage and indirect PR for the Obama campaign,” he pointed out.

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