Game Marketing: Do Ad Agencies Matter?

Game Marketing: Do Ad Agencies Matter?

Video game advertisements are the closest we’re brought to a new game before the act of actually playing it. That’s why it’s easy to forget that the ads we see on television, in magazines, and on movie theater screens are not put together by the ladies and gentlemen who made the game. Rather, game ads are usually put together by outside folks who know the advertising business: Ad agencies.

Valve recently revealed that it’s set to change this standard, and take a new approach to video game marketing and PR. “No one knows the product better than the folks who made it,” Valve marketing VP and corporate spokersperson Doug Lombardi told MCV. “We’ve had many creative kick-off meetings with agencies over the years, and you’d be shocked by the treatments that have come back. Copycat treatments. Cliché treatments. Treatments that reveal the agency weren’t listening in the initial meeting.”

For those reasons, Lombardi believes that third-party ad agencies are “close to worthless,” at least for Valve’s causes. Valve put the ad for Portal 2 itself, which allowed the company to make changes on the fly instead of relying on an ad agency to do a “post-mortem” after the ad flopped.

Valve’s decision to take charge of its own advertising is definitely commendable, especially with a title as hot as Portal 2. Valve knows and loves its product. More importantly, Valve knows its user base very well. One can only cringe when they think of what a third party agency might have come up with to peddle Chell’s second run through the Aperture Science facility. Imagine thirty seconds of “cake” jokes: Instantly recognizable, which an ad agency would want, but oh so stale. How about a rap video parody starring the Companion Cube? Think up some of your own if you feel like depressing yourself in the middle of a sleepless night.

Will Valve’s switch to in-house advertising bring with it an increase in game sales? That remains to be seen. Even though the company’s decision is worthy of applause and it’s taken steps to fine-tune its Portal 2 commercial throughout its development (and a fine commercial it is), there’s a reason why ad agencies rely on “copycat treatments, cliche treatments,” etc: They’re often what appeals to the mainstream. A little sad, a little frustrating, but true.

But that doesn’t mean third party ad agencies are incapable of doing good work. Consider the emotional ad for Halo 3, put together by the McCann Erickson ad agency. The ad for BioShock, written and assembled by EyeBallNYC and RDA International, features a memorable plunge into the sea. And then there’s the infamous PlayStation 3 “Baby” ad. It’s not especially good, but at least it gave us all a chance to recollect a specific moment from The Simpsons (“Dad? Was that your commercial?” “…I don’t know!”)

Valve’s in a different position than most game developers, though. Portal 2 sold itself ages ago, when the original game picked up countless awards, innumerable positive reviews, and a whole lot of fans. Valve can afford to treat its property with love and care instead of peddling it out to an easily-distracted audience by way of cheap but eye-catching advertisements sewn together by an agency.

We can still hope that one day all developers will be able to write the ads that pitch the product they worked so hard on. Until then, all the best to Valve: We look forward to its crop of awesome commercials.

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About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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