Advertising at its best, or one of "those" moments

I recently had the unpleasant experience of watching the following television commercial with my four-year-old son:

You might wonder why my preschooler was up late at night watching adult-oriented television shows and their correspondingly mature ads.

He wasn’t. We saw this commercial at 10:30 on a Sunday morning, while he and I were playing with Legos in the family room, where my husband was watching his weekly New England Patriots football game via DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket satellite feed. (OK, so local audiences on the East Coast would have seen it at 1:30pm. I guess no kids at all are watching TV with their parents at that hour, right?)

I know football itself is a barbaric sport, and the thought that anyone under the age of 80 might accidentally see that Cialis ad with the bathtubs is offensive to human dignity. But my four-year-old happens to find football on TV very boring (hence the Lego table in the family room). And he clearly isn't remotely intrigued by oldsters in bathtubs, because he’s never asked me what a four-hour erection is (for which I am grateful). The Call of Duty Black Ops commercial, however, captured all of our attention, and fast. Though I tried to jump for the remote and press pause, I wasn’t quick enough—he’d seen and absorbed the bulk of the mega-violent and ultra-realistic machine-gun fire, rocket launching, and handgun brandishing before I could do anything about it.

I understand that the Call of Duty series prides itself on mega-violence and ultra-realism. (In case you didn’t know, the last game in the series let you gun down innocent civilians as they crawled pathetically away trying to save themselves.) Generally, my track record on the whole “violence in video games” issue is clear and consistent. I’m not upset about violent video games, nor am I upset about violent ads for violent video games. I even went on live TV once upon a time to defend Grand Theft Auto in a “debate” (if you could really call it that) against Jack Thompson. (Remember that ambulance-chasing anti-video-game lawyer? Where is he now, anyway? Oh wait, I remember—nobody cares!)

But I was upset at being caught unaware by this visceral glorification of violence, and I was saddened that my little boy was suddenly and unexpectedly having to process images he is simply way too young and innocent to understand. And that is when I had one of "those" moments. The moment when you realize you’re getting older, and you’re no longer as blithely permissive as you once were. When you realize you’re a parent, and you have to be permanently vigilant to make sure your child only sees certain flavors of media when he is ready to see, discuss, and understand them. And when, for a second that lingers longer than you’d like, you understand on a very personal level all those people who do hate and fight against violent video games, who don't support their right to exist, who don't appreciate them as art or free speech.

I'm not against Call of Duty or violent video games, but I'm shocked and disappointed that this ill-placed ad campaign made me, a staunch video game supporter and advocate, briefly want to side with those who are.


Chris Hajny said...

I am a 28 year old married man with no kids. I also play games like Call of Duty all the time and can watch pretty violent things without much discomfort.

But I had a similar feeling of 'This seems wrong and disrespectful for TV. Who's going to see this? Whoa, am I old?" when I first the commercial.

It's a cool concept, to be sure, but it seems completely tasteless. Despite the lack of blood, guts or anyone every getting hurt, it still seems way too violent in an odd way.

I really think the vibe comes form many of the 'gamers' faces. The guy on the helicopter's machine gun has the glossed-over eyes of someone entranced in a multiplayer match. Which is probably the point, but also just seems slightly sociopathic given the verisimilitude of the rest of the scene.

Do you remember the Cops N' Robbers ad from early in the 360's life? It was the same concept, but much more delightfully executed. It's a joy and perfectly captures what's great about multiplayer gaming. Where-as the Black Ops ad seems kind of gross.


Glad to see you a post from you!

Anonymous said...

If I may...I would like to take the opposition on this.

I am a 32 year old male, married, no kids... but two enormous cats.

I understand your point...its not so much the content as much as it is the timing that is inappropriate.

I think that we can all agree that the person watching a football game is the same demographic as the person who would buy that game.

To be able to advertise to your demographic, during a time that the viewer has a ridiculously high percent chance of watching that program live and not skipping commercials (because it was DVR'd)... you can't fault Treyarch for wanting to take advantage of that. I actually didn't find that commercial offensive until I read this post...but i do see your point now. That said I also believe the commercial concept is brilliant...a little celebrity heavy, but still brilliant.

But I guess my point is... Shouldn't the blame fall on the fact the NFL makes games an all day affair on Sundays instead of stretching football across Saturday, Sunday and Monday during primetime... when the content of the program and its advertisements would be more suitable?

just asking.

stiill said...

I might be missing something, but this doesn't appear to me to be at all specific to gaming-- I've seen plenty of ads for things other than games that were equally objectionable for kids.

Regarding violence in the media, Violet's so young that I just have to be on 100% DVR mode anyway. She shouldn't watch almost anything on TV. :)

Jennifer said...

Thanks Chris! I hope to write more frequently now that the wee bairn is able to spend more hours of the day with a babysitter :)

To Two Enormous Cats: YES, I think there were many points along the decision-making chain where this should have/could have been caught... I understand Activision is trying to hit a certain demographic, and obviously sporting events like football are a great place to do that. But just because you want to do something and it will have the results you want does not mean it's OK to do that. You make an excellent point about changing the timing of the games; I had not even thought about that as a solution.

Stiill, I agree with you, which is why I made the point about Cialis, etc. R-rated movies promos are often also violent. But I will say that in the several years I've been a parent, it's usually only the video game and military ads that even make me flinch, or get the kids' attention. I'm sure there are exceptions to this but that's my anecdotal observation.

Anecdotal observations, the stuff on which blogs are made :)

Anonymous said...

I think all of you guys need a time out. When you are watching shows with a certain demographic commercials will bound to pop up that you may find distasteful. I hope one day you and others like yourself resist the temptation of pushing your views on everyone else. Instead of flooding the net with your dribble talk to a shrink about your sensitivity.

Anonymous said...

you should go read the comments on the 1up.com page :) (they posted your article)

Jennifer said...

I love the smell of haterade in the morning (and thanks for the heads-up :)

Miss Jessie said...

HATED that commercial. LOTS.