Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Why advertising is scary

I’m starting some very basic ads for GSB, in anticipation of actually releasing it soonish. As a result, I’m fiddling with ad settings a lot. I get quite into it. Modern web-advertising is far far better and different to the classic advertising on TV or billboards or magazines that have existed all these years. You can literally do this with web ads:

“Bid for $0.08 per click for ads of this size on this specific site if the viewers time-zone is currently 7.30Pm – 9.30PM, on a Wednesday, and increase that bid by 10% if they are under 35 years old and reduce by 25% if they are female, making sure they do not see this specific ad more than 4 times today on that specific site. Only show this ad to English speaking people in New Zealand.”

You might think that’s overkill, but the thing is 99% of your competitors are big companies (measured by ad budget) and they ALL have people dedicated to getting those settings right. Ever wondered how the hell you see EVONY ads everywhere? How can they afford it? They can’t, but if you are aged 18-40 and visit gaming sites on weekday evenings, that’s a much more affordable niche to bombard.

So we establish that ads are VERY targetable and configurable, but why scary? Because they work. Seriously. I know everyone thinks they don’t and that we are immune, but trust me, you are not. I used to think that people ‘like me’ were ‘above’ ads, and that because I knew so much about PR and marketing, that I saw through their tricks. Then I read this book.

Advertising works because it affects your brain just like any other input. You probably associate the sound of birdsong with calm and peace, because over many years, when you have heard birdsong, its been peaceful and calm, and so your brain lays down patterns of neuron connections that associate birdsong = calm. This is how you learn EVERYTHING. Including pleasure. The smell of muffins with strawberry jam is associated by me with pleasure because I tend to experience the visual appearance of them shortly before I experience the pleasure of the taste. Our whole brains work this way, and good luck re-wiring them.

This is why ads work. They show you a busty supermodel next to a sports car, and your ‘higher brain’ thinks ‘cheap trick’ but your subconscious brain thinks ‘cars are sexy‘. You can’t stop it. It’s literally impossible, if you have physically seen the ad.

This is where it gets scarier:

There is a part of your brain called the amygdala. It gets visual input before anything else, and passes it on afterwards. It takes actions before the higher level part of your brain kicks in, and it is the part that works on strong emotions. The strongest emotion is fear. This is why when you sometimes jump in shock when you watch a horror movie. There is no reason to do so. The TV cannot attack you, you are safe, its just TV, but all these thoughts come in long after the fear response. In short, the fear response will lay down strong neural connections before your higher brain even gets to point out how incorrect that is. This is why political ads rely on fear. Fear works.




15 thoughts on Why advertising is scary

  1. I expect then that you might have some spaceships firing at cleavage? Such as the aforementioned Evony ads? :-D

  2. LOL, I like your ad slogans at the end ;-) More honest than usual advertising at least.

    Anyways, if you use a properly configured ad blocker you are pretty immune to the standard, blunt type of advertising. You can still fall for well written blog posts of course ;-), but at least all the in-your-face, blinking banner ad garbage is gone forever. Works very well indeed.

    I sometimes feel bad using a paid by advertising but otherwise free site when I don’t see the ads – not even the small google text ad stuff. It’s freeloading on the less technically savvy people who must suffer more aggressive ads as a result. Then again, the audio-visual onslaught of useless “information” we have to deal with every day is sensory overload enough. If I have the means to fight back at least a little bit I will.

  3. I have adblock installed but turned off. I only toggle it on for a few sites that have flashing stuff that makes the site unreadable. I’ve actually found quite a few decent games and sites through ads, even banner ads, so I tend to leave them on.
    Adblock can also sometimes block other content, especially legit flash content.

  4. I don’t use adblocking software because I find I’m fairly good at ignoring ads. Sure, maybe they’re affecting my brain in some way, but I’m still not clicking on these ads and buying their stuff.
    I wouldn’t feel bad if I used an adblocker though, because sites usually make profit from click-throughs, and I’ve probably click on less then five ads the entire time I’ve used the internet.
    Not to mention two-thirds of the ads I see now are for Eve Online, which I’ve already played.

  5. Yeah I agree, modern internet advertising is seriously a full time job at times and gets very psychological.

    Your amazon link is fubar btw ;)

    There’s lots of people who can tell you how to do advertising with things like adwords but most of them don’t even cover 20% of the topic!
    This guy, Perry Marshall, I think is pretty good for Google AdWords ( even if you don’t buy any of his services, just signing up for his newsletter can tell you loads.


  6. Wow… I am now pretty scared, and keep noticing every little thing that’s trying to convince me to do things. Gah!

  7. While I don’t doubt that adds affect me on some subconscious level, I have a great deal of faith in my ability to not click on things I don’t want to click on. I seem to be even better at not buying things I don’t want to buy. Voluptuous breasts cannot make me create an account on Evony. In fact, because they’ve shown me nothing but voluptuous breasts, I have absolutely no idea what the game is about. If I am genuinely interested in something, I will click an ad. If I saw an ad for “Gratuitous Space Battles,” it’s somewhat likely that I’d click it even if I didn’t read this blog regularly, because it’s something that catches my interest. At the same time, there is so much bait’n’switch in the ad industry that 90% of the time that something looks interesting, it ends up being something totally different. It really makes me want to not click on ads at all, which makes it a really shitty strategy to employ if you’re trying to make money in the ad business. It sours the milk: conditions people to do the opposite of what you want them to do. You may make money in the short term by promising boobies, but when people get wise to your tactics, they’re less likely to click on any ads in the future. This is why I have a hard time believing ads are worthwhile. I’ve absolutely no first hand experience, and you do, so I’m inclined to trust you, but I find it bizarre that such an exploitative, overworked concept can turn a profit for ad-buyers.

  8. I’ve actually gotten to a point where now, if I like a website, I force myself to click on an add, and stay on that website (in background), and click again on other ads. No matter what they are. I hope this helps some free games or websites I appreciate.

    I really think your logo up there is actually good, lol. You should try it :)

  9. Advertisements are good at making you remember a company’s name, for precisely the reasons mentioned in the OP — your brain automatically associates the name of the company with something.

    They are much less good at actually getting you to do something with that information, whether it’s click-through on an ad or purchase a product. But it’s generally not the intent of advertisement to make you do something immediately — that would be expecting too much.

    The hope with advertisement isn’t to get you to do something immediately, it’s to establish brand recognition. That way, the next time you have an impulse ‘you know I have a hankering for some sci-fi war action right now’ you’ll remember the brand the advertisement caused you to associate with that impulse. ‘Hey, didn’t I see something about a game called Gratuitous Space Battles somewhere?’ This in turn generally leads to more impulse purchases of the product in question and less comparison shopping losses to other, similar products.

  10. This is very true, and I have recent first hand evidence. My car broke down recently and I needed the number for the insurance company which I didn’t have on me. I had no idea what it was, so i needed to call one of the commercial directory enquiries numbers.
    I called 118-118*. It’s the only one I know.

    *note to non-UK people, this company spams TV ads EVERYWHERE to get you to remember that number.

  11. That highlights another interesting thing about ads. It almost doesn’t matter whether an ad is memorable because it’s good / funny, or whether it’s memorable because it’s bad / obnoxious (so long as it’s not outright offensive.) What matters is that the ad is good at making that association between a need/desire/impulse and a product or company that services said impulse — i.e. the ad is memorable.

  12. I agree with you about advertising, it’s creepy. Not surprise that the modern advertising movement grew with the rise of experimental psychology and that it gave birth to a generation of consumers first, citizens last. At least here in the U.S. anyway.

    That said, I added a result for GSB on the website. Feel free to peruse: I can edit it if you don’t like the copy.

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