Oil spill is a crude and growing advertising trend

bullshitplug400x566 It’s an ill tide that … Spirit Airlines latched on to The BP Oil Spill as a way to divert attention from its own PR fiasco of charging for carry-on bags. So they launched a campaign with bikini-clad women in all glistening in sun screen with the tag of "Check Out The Oil On Our Beaches. While I’ve seen more risqué (and clever) things on the Benny Hill Show, someone somewhere objected to this. (And pardon me if I suspect Spirit of being behind this.)

Twitter users from all over the world have been tweeting about the advert while an indignant Facebook user has started the group ‘Tell Spirit Airlines their oil ads are offensive’.

Meanwhile, a chain of NYC gyms managed to come up with something slightly funnier. The NYSC is running ads which read, “Exercise sharpens the brain. Oil execs come in ASAP.” (For some reason CNN called the ad “tasteless.” A bazillion gallons of oil in the Gulf and you think this is tasteless?)

The marketing is seeping into new media with apps for both the Droid and iPhone that let you A) plug the spill or B) save a little yellow duck from turning brown. Elsewhere, everyone is trying to make political hay from the oil. In Minnesota, the Democratic opponent to Michelle Bachmann (R-Loon Lake) is flinging petrol-soaked mud because Bachmann also said the government was extorting money from BP to pay for the spill. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley claims his opponent is an oil company stooge because he once voted for tax breaks for the oil companies. Not to be outdone, the GOP has a video blasting President Obama for having the temerity to play golf during the oil spill. I really am not ready for a world in which the GOP disapproves of someone playing golf. That’s like the Democrats attacking brie. Have you no sense of decency, man?

What little quality advertising has been done about the oil spill has come at BP’s expense both thematically and fiscally. The beleaguered Gulf state tourism boards are desperate to get people to come visit. To that end, New Orleans launched a campaign with the tagline: “This isn’t the first time New Orleans has survived the British.” You know you’re desperate when your ads are built around a reference to the War of 1812. Next up, a Millard Fillmore quote. Probably the best thing about these ads is that BP is picking up the tab for them. Florida has already burned through the $25 million BP gave them for advertising and is now preparing to go back to the well for more.

But my personal favorite BP-related marketing effort comes from TerrorBull Games – the company which brought us War On Terror: The Boardgame. They are offering a free, downloadable game called Operation: Bullshit Plug (my but they do love colons over there).

This game is for two players. Each player takes a role – either ‘BP’ or ‘The Public’ and each player has two cards that represent two possible strategies. BP is trying to shore up its dwindling share price, while the public just want the leak plugged. Both players pick a strategy and play it face down, simultaneously. These are then revealed and the effects on the share price and the leak are worked out. This action is then repeated until the game ends. It’s very simple, takes just a few minutes to play, but is also quite devilish and deceiving.

Plus you get that cool/disgusting Ralph Steadman-esque picture.

New game is a wonderfully bitter version of the economic mess

crunch-box-3D

“Crunch, The Game For Utter Bankers” is a card game for anyone with a distinctly gallows sense of humor:

[It] allows you to experience the upside of down. Placed in the role of a global banking CEO, you have to juggle the conflicting demands of your ailing bank and your flourishing bank account. … Each player starts the game with a number of Assets in their bank, a small workforce and a few Trust cards. Trust is essential to your bank’s survival. Not only will capitalism falter without it, but each Trust card hides on the reverse a potential Government Bailout.

card-rebrandThis  is the latest product from the fine warped folks at TerrorBull Games and – judging by the website — it is as bitter and cynical as their last number: War On Terror: The Board Game. (Does anyone do bitter better than the Brits? They have a cultural gift for angry commentary that I have never seen equaled: Waugh, Ralph Steadman, Francis Bacon, Martin & Kingsley Amis, Thackeray, Joe Orton – the list just goes on and wonderfully on. While the US has some fine satirists only Mencken really ranks for among the great acidivists.)

An average game sees you bribing your way out of government investigations, fending off aggressive takeovers and forcing debt onto the unsuspecting public. Meanwhile, reward your hard work by taking inappropriate bonuses and – when no one’s looking – brazenly embezzling your bank’s own funds and hiding them about your person. Crunch is unique in that to win, players are coaxed into cheating.

Fittingly, the game will hit stores on April 1, but it is NOT a prank.

Full disclosure alert:

  • I have not played the game yet.
  • I am being given a free review copy.
  • The company has wormed its way into my heart by sending a free copy of War On Terror to a friend who is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

That said, if the game is half as fun to play as the website is to read it will be great.

card-toobigtofail Although the problems inherent in, say, spending over a trillion dollars on a war, while your country’s exports diminish year-on-year, would be apparent to the average school child, somehow everyone seemed caught off guard by this. And, being simple people, we started looking around to find out who to blame. …

Unfortunately, you can’t bomb the economy into shape, so looking for culprits was largely a waste of time. Even when bank bosses finally came under fire, it all felt like a bit of a diversion. Like sitting in an upturned, burning car and taking that moment to try and work out where you went wrong, when the car itself has no breaks, no steering wheel, tyres made out of butter and wood instead of glass for windows. And it’s not even a car, it’s an angry lion on roller skates and you’ve been trying to drive it.

Not sure if this will be as much fun as some tar and feathers – but I have my hopes up.

How do you get a box marked ammunition by the TSA?

These are not the droids you are looking for.

These are not the droids you are looking for.

My favorite souvenir from the trip to London was in fact a piece of marketing swag. I am a big fan of UK-based Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 miniatures (ORKZ!). CollateralDamageJr. (left, like you really had any doubts) and I went into a bunch of their stores in London. They had all these cardboard boxes made up to look like science fictional ammo containers. So I asked for one. Turns out before Christmas they were supposed to only come with a mammoth purchase (a store manager gave me the wink-wink-nudge-nudge on that though) but after they were officially giving them away. So they gave me one. How then to get “The Box” through customs, TSA and all that other stuff? Well first I cleverly filled it with laundry and then applied an amazing camouflage to it. And now you know how to get a cardboard box past TSA while having your wife, in-laws and son laugh at you.

Yes, I am really doing this.

Yes dear, I am really doing this.

Credit Crunch — A free boardgame you’re already playing

crunch-logo

I happen to know that game publishers are rushing to cash in on the credit crunch. First mover award goes to The Economist for a freebie which you can download here even if you can’t afford a subscription.

The aim is to be the last solvent player. In order to achieve this, players try to eliminate the competition. Risk cards encourage players to pick on each other.

Players who cannot pay their fines may borrow from each other at any rate they care to settle on—for instance, 100% interest within three turns. They should negotiate with the other players to get the best rate possible. Players who cannot borrow must either go into Chapter 11 or be taken over.

Players may conceal their assets from each other.

Another bonus: YOU GET TO PRINT YOUR OWN MONEY. Yep, just like the Treasury and probably a good bit more reliable.

Can’t wait to play a fictitious version of this for once.

icons

Thanks to Shaun Abrahamson for the link!

Hasbro thinks women aren’t worth the Risk

The game company is subtly discouraging women from buying Risk with an ad campaign featuring images like

risk1

God, I hope not.

Now I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of people who play one of my all-time least-favorite board games are — biologically speaking — guys. However up until this point the marketing to guys was more implied than overt. That was a good thing for a couple of reasons. 1) It allowed boys some chance of getting their sisters to play. 2) It didn’t discourage 50% of the population from buying the damn thing.

Anyone who thinks I am reading to much into the “Man Up” campaign should attempt to play the online version “Risk Factor.” It features things like

risk3

Oh, no. You are NOT talking about MY mama, are you?

Furthermore, if you sign up to play and do not give a nickname one is assigned to you. But not all nicknames are acceptable as was pointed out in the splendid blog Sociological Images:

I tried a series of names: “Fred”, “Thomas” and “Patrick” went through fine, but if I tried “Melissa” “Jessica” or “Natasha”, the system wouldn’t accept them, and I was told to “Keep it clean, please.”

If you don’t choose a nickname yourself, the system will assign you one. I suppose they are meant to be humiliating names: I got “Bubbles”, “Cupcake”, “Jelly belly”, “Violet” and “Daisy”.

The game platform is a floating island, full of clickable objects. Among them: a facial hair selector, a chainsaw, a TV which exclusively plays footage of girls dancing in a club, a giant finger to pull (which emits gas), etc.

Doubtless Hasbro would defend this all as being meant in “good fun” and bring out the “humorless political correctness” defense. To which I would point out that A) humor is supposed to be funny and; B) The campaign doesn’t work because it’s nothing but tired cliches (which is itself a tired cliche). Hasbro could easily played both sides of the gender fence (and gotten a laugh or two) by using the idea of a tough guy named Bubbles. (And the truly tough frequently do have names like that. When you are tough enough your name is always the same: Respect.)

How about “Are you going to let someone named Sunflower Rainbow kick your ass all the way to Irktusk?” That was you appeal to both the Sunflower Rainbows and Richard Steels of the world.

I think it only fair to note that not playing Risk has been seen as a cause of military blunders. As Prof. Eddie Izzard notes: “In the ’30s, Hitler: Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Second World War… Russian front not a good idea… Hitler never played Risk when he was a kid. Cause, you know, playing Risk, you could never hold on to Asia. That Asian-Eastern European area, you could never hold it, could you? Seven extra men at the beginning of every go, but you couldn’t fucking hold it.

Sadly, Prof. Izzard’s theory was discredited when it was discovered that George W. Bush had played Risk.

A big thanks to Mrs. CollateralDamage for pointing this out.!

War on Terror makes it to Afghanistan!

The fine folks at TerrorBull Games, makers of The War On Terror: The Boardgame*, have made sure that the war on terror is helping out our troops in Afghanistan. When I told them my friend and fellow boardgamer, Lt. Pete, was over there they sent out a copy free of charge.

Lt. Pete writes:

I just wanted to let you know that War on Terror made it to theater!  I was a bit worried because once we got here they said to just use the APO because any address with the word “Afghanistan” on it typically gets routed thru Kabul and doesn’t always make it to Bagram.  Thankfully it did!

I really appreciate the effort you put into this and will be sure to update you with pics, etc.  I am doing a right seat/left seat ride with the person I am replacing right now and we are quite busy with turnover. Once things settle down with the turnover I should get a chance to play.

Again, my sincere gratitude – boardgames are the best stress reliever I know, so it will be very theraputic and fun for me!

Anyone else wishing to send things to either Lt. Pete or Lt. Autumn, please drop me a line a cvon (((at))) areporter DOT com or post a note in the comments section and I will get you their shipping information.

*Official board game of CollateralDamage and heartily endorsed by the Penguins of Irony!

Game proves satire is world’s most dangerous marketing strategy

The War on Terror is still terrifying people. And in this specific case I mean the boardgame, not the George Bush Desert Classic. As readers will recall, War on Terror: The Boardgame was released in November of ’06 (though I was reporting on it in July of that year HAH!). The satiric game seems to be what would have happened had Randy Newman designed Risk.

“The ‘War on Terror’ was once just a violent hobby for greedy imperialists. Now, courtesy of TerrorBull Games, it’s also a boardgame! That’s right, now everyone can experience the thrill of waging war on an abstract noun – and liberate the world in the process.”

Components include an Axis of Evil spinner, a balaclava with the word “evil” printed across the forehead and a “Suicide Bomber Gift Certificate,” bearing the legend “thank you for funding the War on Terror.” I really think one of those should be given to every US taxpayer.

While I doubt it’s been a huge seller it has certainly been a PR bonanza for TerrorBull Games — one that just keeps on giving. Initially it was decried by every UK news organization with a slow news day and then banned by the big toy store chain over there. Also the company wasn’t allowed to even rent a booth at the London Toy Fair. More recently the game was cited by the police as evidence that a bunch of UK treehuggers at the Camp for Climate Action had a “sinister weapons cache.”

… on Monday night police found a stash of weapons that included an assortment of knives, a pointed throwing star, shields and chains hidden in trees and undergrowth around the site.

Also seized — and featured prominently in press coverage — was a copy of guess what boardgame? (Note to the UK cops: a throwing star? There is no less dangerous weapon in the world — except to the person using it. The damn things are nearly impossible to throw with any accuracy.)

Now the damn thing is once-again getting banned by stores. According to the game’s publisher:

When Zavvi ordered 5,000 copies of War on Terror, independent publishers, TerrorBull Games, thought their luck had changed. After a year of obstruction and rejection, they finally had a high street outlet. However, the celebrations were short-lived when the games were recalled the very day they went on sale. A Zavvi spokesman strangely claimed that “poor sales” lay behind the same-day recall, but TerrorBull Games suspect differently. Apparently, while many at Zavvi were backing the game, MD, Simon Douglas, was unaware of the deal until the moment he saw War on Terror on the shelves of his own shop. Douglas reportedly “kicked off” and the games were promptly pulled. Zavvi then refused further delivery and became reluctant to pay for games they suddenly decided they didn’t want. A protracted legal battle ensued that, while almost bankrupting TerrorBull Games, ended in victory for TerrorBull as they got to keep half the games as well as getting paid in full.

In order to make more hay from this the company is going to be “giving away over 100 board games on Oxford St in London to draw attention to the fact that no High Street chains will dare sell the game.” Apparently High Street is a big thing over there. It’s so cute when the Brits act like they’re a real country!

One of these days I really want to actually play this thing.

Not very pretty in pink: Monopoly for girls

There are about a trillion different editions of Monopoly out there all of which appeal to different segments of the population. For ironists there is the Dot Com edition (yeah, I got it). CollateralDamage Jr. owns something like three different Star Wars editions (one of which is a really cool design with place on the board to hold the deeds until you buy them). Apparently the one segment not yet targeted is actually 51% of the population. Thus Monopoly in pink. Ugliest edition ever? You decide. I just hope they gave Mr. Moneybags some gender re-assignment surgery. Hey Hasbro, how about just releasing the Hello Kitty edition here in the US?

pinkmonopoly

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Headline of the day: The death dice

Turns out Yahtzee can kill with more than just boredom.

yahtzee2A game of Yahtzee ended with a US man being stabbed to death. Mark Allen, 49, was playing the dice game with his neighbour, 47-year-old Edith Elliot at her home in Tampa, Florida, when they began to argue. Elliot’s partner joined in the row, which then turned physical, and police believe Allen stabbed the unnamed 49-year-old boyfriend.

Great, next thing you know they’ll outlaw Monopoly. Actually that’s probably a good idea…

When board games are outlawed, only outlaws will play boardgames

In South Carolina, it is illegal to pass Go or collect $200 – even if it is just Monopoly money. The same state law that has forced a local radio station to cancel its charity poker tournament scheduled for next week also makes it illegal for anyone in South Carolina to play a game – any game – that uses cards or dice.

Given the size of my game collection I would be busted as a dealer if I ever set foot in the state. My Settlers of Catan collection alone would probably get me a life sentence. And if they ever came across my Heroscape stash? Lethal injection.

Most expensive pursuit of trivia ever? $7K for a board game.

Someone is offering an edition of Trivial Pursuit with an inlaid leather board …

… Sitting atop a beautiful scalloped sided plinth and meticulously inlaid by hand and embossed in either Gold or Silver, the playing pieces are stowed in cushioned felt stowage compartments. A pair of leather-bound uncrushable dice cups, complete with trips to prevent unfair play — which is impossible if using the two ball cornered precision dice provided within this set. A pair of leather-bound Question card boxes with leather seperators and a leather rule envelope. Supplied as standard with acrylic “pies” and “segments,” these are also available in leather inlaid Sterling silver.

In silver: $4400. In gold: $7100. You first. Well, you first only if you live in Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, Africa, and/or Antartica because here’s the kicker: “Please note at present Trivial Pursuit® is not available in USA & Canada.”

My wife will be soooo relieved.

UPDATE: Actually $7100 doesn’t even get you into the top 5 most for costly boardgames. A full list of the Top 10 prior to the unveiling of this edition of TP can be found here. BTW, the same company offers a chess set for $62K.

Thanks to Joe McKinley (The Unbeliever) for the link.

I get to correct The New Yorker

Women were in scant evidence among the gamers, but David Greene, another Meetup mafioso, was there, playing San Juan, a fantasy card game, and eating Pringles. [Emphasis added]

It’s not often I get to correct my favorite magazine but this time they’ve wandered into one of my weird areas of expertise. I have played San Juan on numerous occasions and I can tell you it’s many things but fantasy it is not. In the game you produce and trade resources and buy buildings. It is hard to think of anyone save — ugh — Donald Trump who would think of this as a fantasy.

And speaking of The Donald, whom I had the misfortune to interview earlier this year, in this cat fight between him and Rosie O’Donnell I am rooting for … serious injuries to both. I bet their combined IQs must reach well into the double digits.

I love the fact that all these “beauty queens” are being censured for “conduct unbecoming.” You may only prance about and display yourself as a sex object when we say so. By going to bars and displaying your entire breast you are bringing dishonor upon our contest where you parade around in a bikini.

War on Terror: The Boardgame — Part 2

It’s not just the US that’s having problems waging the war on terror. As loyal readers may recall last July I wrote about the new boardgame version of the War On Terror called, appropriately enough, The War On Terror: The Boardgame. (Writing in the pages of the august publication that chooses to employ me, I described it as what would happen if Randy Newman had designed Risk.) Since then the two Brits behind it have hit a PR jackpot as their game has been denounced by two members of Parliament and been rejected by the toy industry.

Quoth the Cambridge Evening News:

“We went to the London Toy Fair and we were a bit green and didn’t really know the drill. They expected us to be buyers but we turned up wearing balaclavas and holding a mock up copy of our box. So we were kindly removed from there, but that was because we hadn’t paid to exhibit, which was fair enough.

“More recently though, we tried to go down the correct route and exhibit. We applied to do a couple of very large German toy fairs, and got rejected from both. With the first, our application went a long way and we paid for our booth and everything and then, when we submitted our press release, we were told there was no way we could exhibit there, and that our money would be refunded.

“There wasn’t much of an explanation, so I phoned them up and the woman in charge kind of flipped over it – she said it was sick and ridiculous. She couldn’t believe we were making a board game about terrorism. But Germans are a bit touchy about war.”

The controversy has also been featured on the BBC and The Sun. That really is the kind of publicity you can’t buy. But you can buy the game, if you live in the UK. For some reason they haven’t found a US distributor yet. Which is too bad because the game, which costs about 26 of whatever it is they call money in the UK, comes with a balaclava emablazoned with the word evil and a “Suicide Bomber Gift Certificate,” bearing the legend “thank you for funding the War on Terror.” If that’s not worth buying then what is?

And the worst commercial real estate in the US is…

Texas Stadium in Dallas and Jacobs Field in Cleveland. That’s according to Hasbro, which placed those two properties where the ultra-low rent Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues used to be, on its just-released Monopoly: Here & Now Edition. The company said the new edition “was designed to answer the question: “What would the most popular board game of all time look like if it were invented today instead of in 1935?” (Well, actually, it was designed to answer the ever-popular question: How do we move more units? But never mind that.) Top spots on the board go to New York’s Times Square, which takes the place of Boardwalk. Coming in second to New York yet again: Boston’s Fenway Park, which is Park Place. And not only have the properties been revamped but so have the tokens: the race car is a Toyota Prius, the old shoe is New Balance running shoe, and “the hip labradoodle takes the place of the Scottish terrier,” they tell us. The game tokens also include McDonald’s French Fries, a Motorola RAZR cell phone, and a generic airplane and laptop computer—which means none of the airlines or computer-makers would cough up a fee for naming rights. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

(FYI: This was originally written for a Brandweek newsletter. You should really check out Brandweek.com, I DO!)

Proof of the triumph of electronic currency & other game news