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Social proof, sex and intrigue–a depressingly effective advertising combination

By on August 12, 2013

I just saw this ad in the Sponsored Link section of my Facebook feed, sandwiched between Farmville 2 and the Doctor Who Figure collection


It is for Stormfall: Age of War, a Facebook game by Plarium, an Israeli social games developer. I find that ad depressing because Facebook ads are, typically, A/B tested within an inch of their lives which means that this combination of image, text and calls to action is the most effective ad that Plarium has been able to construct. Let’s look at it. First the good:

  • Social proof: Humans are social animals. We like to be reassured in our choices by looking around to see how other people choose. Being told that 1 million people have played this game reassures us that it is worth checking out.
  • Call to action: The ad says Play NOW! and Play now with a link. The call to action is clear. There is no doubt what a reader should do if they see this add.

And the depressing:

  • The title: For Adults 21+ Only implies exclusivity (which is fine). But it also implies, particularly when taken with the image, that this game is somehow titillating or “better” because it has a high age rating. I haven’t played the game but it looks like a bog standard midcore RTS (reviewed by Inside Social Games here). The campaign headline is simply clickbait, optimised to get people to click.
  • The image: Well, what can I say. Sexualised, context-less, irrelevant pictures of scantily-clad female characters in that anatomically-impossible pose that shows both bums and boobs in the same view. And what are they meant to be? Sexy barbarians? Sexy warriors? Sexy builders? Who knows.

I was about to say I can’t entirely blame Plarium. They are just following the data. They put up irrelevant headlines that imply exclusivity or titillation and they get more clicks. They put up irrelevant, sexualised, objectifying imagery and they get more clicks. Who cares that the pictures and headlines are irrelevant, objectifying and demeaning to both sexes, if they get the clicks?

Well I do. A mid-core strategy RTS could sensibly be targeted at me. But this ad is not. I find it unpleasant. Unfortunately, the data has lead Plarium to believe that this sort of marketing is the most effective. They followed the data, not their instincts, or their sense of what was appropriate.

Shame on you, Plarium.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: