On Teaching Critical Marketing Studies at a Business School

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Before we begin I want to thank you for your thoughtful evaluations. They have been very helpful. For our teaching team here, the biggest issue has been how to make the connections between marketing, the readings, and the group project clearer.

I want to reiterate something that I began this course by saying:

I am not going to teach you what Marketing is, I am instead going to introduce you to the various things that marketing does.

The first and foremost thing that marketing does is that it works with (and usually to confirm) our habits. I think if you consider what marketing does with habits you can see that marketing is involved in more and more aspects of our lives, not only because advertisements are on everything from airline vomit bags to the space over urinals, but that they involve more and more capacities for life itself. So the connections between say McCluhan and Levy and Grewal and your group projects has everything to do with how to be effective in either your marketing communication or your culture jam of brands. In other words, to want to be able to have effects in and through your communications with a target audience. Usually this happens through a medium like TV or Internet Videos. But these media are processes that involve the speed, scale or reach, and pattern of interaction of different populations of consumers. So Nike experienced on TV, Internet, radio, Mobile, is the same brand, but each media both adds to the brand and helps to differentiate its experience, and hence potentially increase its brand equity. That is simply to say that you will be making better marketing communication projects if and how you consider how branding is affected by the specific speed, scale, and pattern of the medium it is using. But then I have also made the further argument that contemporary marketing is targeting not any specific media for its communications (TV over the mobile), but the body’s capacity for sensation itself.

So to reiterate: the connection of the readings to marketing and to your projects has to do with how to create effective marketing communications and culture jams. Notice that the connection are not that marketing is evil or bad, but rather how to make connections effectively: the ethics of marketing changes entirely when you look at what it does practically in its communications and strategies. Marketing in its actions works on habits of the body, perception, thought, memory, etc. Some of you are irritated that you think I’m trying to convince you of something about marketing that it is bad, or evil or something like that, but that’s precisely not what I’m doing. What I am trying to show in a very material and practical way is what marketing does in its processes of communication?

So the important history that Lenoir recounts in detail, and the various theories of information and network cultures that Beer and Gane present are important precisely because they give you the background to understand the history of your present moment, and so to better act in the future.

What is Marketing’s Medium and What is its Message?

Let’s say first of all that the brand is the medium of creating value (equity). To brand a company well the entire media ecology is exploited to the fullest of its various capacities.

Take for instance, “Advergaming.”

Advergaming (a portmanteau of “advertising” and “gaming”) is the practice of using video games to advertise a product, organization or viewpoint. The term “advergames” was coined in January 2000 by Anthony Giallourakis, and later mentioned by Wired’s “Jargon Watch” column in 2001. It has been applied to various free online games commissioned by major companies.
With the growth of the internet, advergames have proliferated, often becoming the most visited aspect of brand websites and becoming an integrated part of brand media planning in an increasingly fractured media environment. Advergames theoretically promote repeated traffic to websites and reinforce brands. Users choosing to register to be eligible for prizes can help marketers collect customer data. Gamers may also invite their friends to participate, which could assist promotion by word of mouth, or “viral marketing.”
Games for advertising are sometimes classified as a type of serious game, as these games have a strong educational or training purpose other than pure entertainment.


“Through the line” refers to an advertising strategy involving both above and below the line communications. This strategic approach allows brands to engage with a customer at multiple points (for example, the customer will see the television commercial, hear the radio advert and be handed a flyer on the street corner). This enables an integrated communications approach where consistent messaging across multiple media create a customer perception. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Below_the_line_(advertising)

What Advergames teach us is that contemporary marketing practices (best practices) involve developing effective “through the line” strategies, using mass media (TV, Internet), as well as more long-term, networked strategies that maintain the awareness or attention of niche-consumers.

For some marketers the “line” divides the realm of “Awareness or Attention focused marketing” and that of “Interest + Desire focused marketing”. Since audience numbers in the Interest and Desire phase of the AIDA sales model narrow down to a fraction of the Awareness audience, the line could be drawn right below the awareness set of activities. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Below_the_line_(advertising))

Or as one advergaming site put it: “What is an advergame? It is a computer game that contain an advertising message. Advergames are highly accepted amongts its intended audience, since the interactive advertisement media provides fun and enjoyment while conveying a commercial message. You got their attention in exchange of fun.”

Given all this we can say that Advergaming is a form of straightforward mass media advertising (given the reach of on-line games), a below the line strategy of keeping the attention of the customer base (grabbing and holding attention through viral information and interactivity strategies; advergames rent out our attention), and medium with its own variable speed, scale, and pattern of interactivity.

So using this definition of Advergaming we can better understand a medium as something that has a variable organization of speed, scale or reach, and pattern of interactivity.

Let us now define further in terms of Advergaming speed, scale, and pattern of interaction. The first thing to remember is that each of these terms is both quantitative and qualitative. We can measure through various methods speed, scale, and interactivity. But they are also qualitative experiences of lived bodies that have complex emotions, perceptions, durations, and sensing abilities. So speed, scale, and pattern of interaction are intensive qualities of a media (they are experienced as gradients or processes of intensity that are better understood as probabilistic vectors or tendencies of a given media).

As Jaffe puts it,

Gaming or Advergaming (what’s in a name?) ultimately plays out on many levels, but the commonality from a strategic perspective is its ability to involve users; to allow them to interact; to entertain and engage them and in doing so, facilitate the Utopian attention value exchange for which advertisers in general have been yearning for so many years.
“One of the core strengths of Advergaming is the universal appeal and accessibility of games,” states Jane Chen, VP, Strategy at YaYa Media. “It is one of the few advertising mediums that effectively reaches target audiences in all day-parts– including the hard-to-reach at-work hours. While many early Advergames sought only to promote brand and product recognition, the most effective Advergames (today) push deeper down the purchase funnel and can serve to qualify buyers and incentivize consumers to visit retail outlets or even purchase directly online. The natural interactivity of games provides the perfect stimulus and ongoing communication channel between brands and their customers.”
This epitomizes the shift in gaming’s importance from a tactical nice-to-have role to that of a have-to-have strategic imperative.
(Joseph Jaffe, Advergaming Equals Attention, http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/1060.asp)

Ok, let’s turn to thinking both the quantitative and qualitative aspect of the speed, scale, and pattern of interactivity of Advergaming.

Take speed, first. What are the sets of speeds of Advergaming? Which advergame? would be the first and most important question. As is clear by the many examples of Advergaming on the Internet, there have been a lot of different examples since 1982 (around the time when they were first developed), and so as a form of marketing it has changed significantly in terms of its speeds as processing speed and DSL Internet developed. But there are statistics available to determine the quantitative side of Advergaming speeds, for instance:

The average time a player stays in an advergames ranges between 15 and 30 minutes. However, it is difficult to imagine that someone is in front of a spot, a magazine ad or a poster more than a few seconds.

So that would be an example of the speeds of Advergaming: average duration of play or session length (another example would be the average duration of marketing promotions that use advergames). The qualitative side of speed could be addressed through player interviews or brain scans of blood activity in different regions. The qualities of speed could be understood through categories such as the acceleration or intensification of game play with increasing levels of difficulty, the rhythmic correlation of body (usually restricted to vision/sound and movements of hands-fingers-thumb, unless you have a game like the Nintendo Wii), console (processing speed and well-designed software), and screen, the process of immersion into the game world. The qualities of speed of an advergame would also be affected by where, when, and on what the game is played: playing Angry Birds Rio on an iPhone while travelling the Tube to work, and sitting down in front of the Xbox at home are very different conditions to experience the speed of a game.

So consider the qualities of speed in these two Advergames:


(for parody see: http://www.mcvideogame.com/why-eng.html)


Call of duty for the Wii:

See also: http://www.createreach.com/advertisers/advergames/

Let’s turn next to consider the scale or reach of Advergames. Again, it is always a good idea to ask, Which advergame? Yet, unlike many other traditional media, the reach or scale of Advergames are more easily measured by the games themselves.

Writing in 2009, marketer Chris Kempt notes that “Today Flash games [cf http://www.flashgames247.com/%5D are amongst the most commonly consumed online media, achieving phenomenal success at low entry cost. One of our most recent titles ‘Celebrity Pedigree’ for Triviala.com has averaged nearly a million visits a month since its launch in March and is still, according to MemeCounter, attracting 20,000 new visits a day, with an average view time of 10 minutes….According to Nielsen’s June VideoCensus, there are roughly 1.2 billion regular consumers of online video out of a potential total internet population of 1.5 billion. TechCrunch/ComScore data shows that Flash games are played regularly by over 1.1 billion people worldwide (75% of the global connected population). Over seven out of 10 web users play casual games, so it’s fair to assume this involves (nearly) all demographics, not just lonely teenage boys! It’s well known that women play a lot of casual games; take the success of non- branded Diner Dash or Celebrity Pedigree. We’ve noted games from ‘business’ brands like ABB and Chevron, and when AARP (a US organisation for the over 50s) added a games channel to its site in February 2008, traffic increased by 294%, with games making up 52% of overall site traffic, according to Arkadium, who built the games.” (Advergames / Natural Selecion in the Online Ecosysem, http://www.contagiousmagazine.com, No. 20, September, 2009, http://www.kempt.co.uk/articles/Contagious_Sept_09_Advergames.pdf)

Generating these kinds of metrics is automated through the very algorithms that drive the game.

So that’s the quantitative side of scale, what’s the qualitative side of scale? First, Advergames attempt to involve its gamers through viral word of mouth, which means that the first scale of relevance is the social networks of the potential gamer audience; thus many advergames are using the different scales or reach that people already inhabit through social networking sites such as Facebook. But from a well-kept secret among gaming friends, to becoming contagious as a viral advergame a qualitative change in the experience of scale and reach is passed, as playing the game immediately involves the gamer in the rapidly growing number of gamers for a viral game (sometimes through peer to peer gaming on line, sometimes through the incessant buzz that a “hot” game generates among users, media, and commentators).

Let’s turn finally to pattern of interaction. How does McCluhan define pattern of interaction? He writes, that the message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human-machinic affairs. Pattern of interaction can be thought of as a specific form of human-machinic association and action, something that is repeated over time (like a habit!), that involves a feedback between human perception and digital information. What are examples of pattern of interaction? The way people play on-line games is a good example of a pattern of interaction. Or consider the set of interactions you have had with your mobile phone today. These patterns of interaction include: the cellular network that carries your subscription registering your automatic debit from your checking account for your pre-paid mobile phone account, information that your phone sends to Blackberry or Apple, various applications that access your information for geo-location, patterns of travel, and patterns of use for its own marketing databases, and then of course what you actually do with the mobile has its own set of interactions—checking facebook, email, sending photos, surfing the web, b/vlogging, etc.

Clearly, one can understand patterns of interaction both quantitatively and qualitatively. Regularly, algorithms embedded within advergames record number of clicks, duration of visit, networking with other players, where players go after visiting site, and advertising agencies pay lots of money to get access to this quantitative information. So a statistically regular image of players’ patterns of interaction with advergames emerges from the aggregation and correlation of this information. On the other hand, when a game goes viral something changes in this statistical regularity, and we might say that it passes a threshold of intensity, as more and more people spend more and more time interacting both with the game and increasingly each other, the pattern of interaction of a viral advergame begins to have effects on other patterns of interaction with other media, people, and environments. In other words, the qualitative analysis of advergames in terms of their pattern of interaction would focus on this threshold of virality, this intensification of interactions which then produce new patterns.

Let us summarize and conclude:

If the line between above the line and below the line marketing is attention itself—the line is attention (below the line tries to hold your attention to a brand and its association, above the line attempts to mobilize your desire for a product)—modulating the body’s capacity to affect and be affected becomes necessary for marketing efforts to leverage the digital ecology for building brand equity.

What is relevant for marketing about a shift in the speed, scale, and pattern of interaction of a medium like on-line gaming? If we define the message as a medium’s speed, scale, and pattern the method of understanding and intervening in marketing’s medium means finding the type, intensity, and connectivity of its speeds, scales, and patterns.

When speed, scale, and pattern crosses thresholds of organization (i.e. when they themselves form and stabilize around patterned sets) a new ecology of information is inaugurated. On-line gaming in the past ten years has been passing through successive thresholds of organization, making it the fastest growing market in the world.

The aim of digital marketing such as advergaming is to successfully intervene in and reorganize that new information system.

  1. Dr. Rai,

    Have you seen this? The Time for Content Marketing is Now. It’s a great post on the blog of the popular UK based SEO marketing firm distilled and it talks about how the future of marketing is about crafting the culture through content creation. There’s a 30 minute video that CocaCola made in that article that talks about their marketing strategy. It really seems to resonate with what you’re saying in your blog.

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