CUBS WIN? Game Ads Grow Up, Look to Reach New Base

CUBS WIN? Game Ads Grow Up

Gamers know there is an element to their avocation that goes beyond just enjoying theatrical-level dazzling visuals and practicing the kind of escapism that can be found in books or comics. From Adventure to Mass Effect 3, gaming’s intrinsic interactivity allows for the kind of participatory experience that is difficult if not impossible to describe to those who have not had a chance to try it first hand, but an unlikely source is letting the world in on the secret.

In an innocuous corner bar in Chicago, baseball fans sweat through what is clearly the final moments of an unseen game until the final out is tallied and the room explodes in cheers. The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series, and the celebration is not just confined to this one room. The camera shoots from scene to scene, from near-riotous crowds piled outside of minor, but authentically Chicago locations to lone fans dancing like no one is watching, because no one is. The party continues on the bridges and rooftops and into Wrigley Field where the team dog piles near the pitcher’s mound. The camera pulls back, and it is revealed that the clinching game 'only' occurred via a PlayStation 3, but for the die-hard Cubs fan with a controller in his hand and a tear in his eyes, it was real enough.

"Build an emotional intensity, don't just flog product specs,” replied Adweek writer Tim Nudd when asked about the approach taken in the production of 'Cubs Win,' an advertisement for this year's MLB 12: The Show for PlayStation 3. Commenting on the emerging trend in commercials for games Nudd adds, “In a crowded gaming field, the point is to make an emotional connection rather than simply show what the game looks like. A whole 'cinematic' tradition has sprung up in gaming commercials, whose narrative and visuals move well outside the confines of the game. Even gaming spots that do use gameplay, or are built using the same visual engine of the game, end up telling more emotional stories.”

Nudd complements the commercial’s producers for their resourceful use of the Major League Baseball license, and the attachment between fans and their teams. “Many more people will see this MLB 12 spot because of the faux real-life scenes imagining a Cubs victory in the World Series. Throw in a few seconds of game promotion at the end, and the game gets all the exposure it needs.”

While any die-hard can relate to either the feelings of a long suffering fan, or the jubilation of victory, close to home in sports-crazed Chicago, talk of 'Cubs Win' is on everybody’s tongue. It even inspired an hour-long quasi-serious discussion on one of the city's two 24 hour sports-talk radio stations. Hosts and callers pointed out landmarks to each other Easter Egg-style and shared stories of what they would do if the Cubs really won the title.

There was even speculation over whether the commercial would raise championship expectations in the Cubs fan base, and if it would upset the carefully laid plans of the real Cubs organization, which has been carefully managing the expectations of its extraordinarily weary fans while it undergoes a top-to-bottom World-Series-win-focused reconstruction that is expected to take years.

'Cubs Win' is just the latest in a thus far short list of advertising in and around the PlayStation brand that has people talking. In last year's PlayStation 3 spot, 'To Michael,' expertly realized game characters relate stories in a tavern of the heroism made possible thanks to Michael, a PS3 gamer. Like 'Cubs Win', 'To Michael' isn't trying to capture attention with flash, as Sony's ad firm's creative director Jason Elm told Adweek: “We wanted to do a spot that was really big and spoke to gamers in their own language. About once a decade, somebody nails that. We wanted to do that for the PS3.”

In the end, it's less about art and conveying the gaming experience, and more about commerce. On that subject Nudd is cautiously optimistic as to the ad's effectiveness, “[It] depends on how you measure success. Creatively and strategically, I think it's a brilliant commercial. It already has more than half a million views on YouTube, which I imagine PlayStation is thrilled about. The bottom line will be: Will the ad move units of the game? That's to be determined, but this spot gives it a great chance of that.”

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