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Obama's online gaming ads raise eyebrows

By Andrew Heining / October 14, 2008

XBox Live gamer Dragunov765

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Screeeeech. What was that? Reverse. Whoa.

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That was likely the scene in one gamer's living room this week, as he spotted a virtual billboard for the Obama campaign during an online session of the racing game Burnout Paradise on the XBox 360.

The spot, first reported Thursday and confirmed to the folks at GigaOM by the game's publisher in an email Monday, represents the first time a major political campaign has purchased advertising in a video game.

Fresh off snagging 30 minutes of network TV airtime, the Obama camp continues to push the envelope in the battle for eyeballs. They were the ones, if you'll recall, who launched an innovative free iPhone application that helps Obama backers drum up support among friends by organizing phone contacts in battleground states.

But this newest ad venture might not be without its pitfalls. Posters for the Burnout series were banned from the London subway last year by the UK's Advertising Standards Agency. The ads in question bore the slogan "inner peace through outer violence," and were taken down for being "likely to encourage violence, dangerous driving, and antisocial behaviour."

Besides the game's questionable pedigree, the ads' medium has come into question. Wagner James Au over at GigaOM points out that the campaign could be accused of sending mixed messages:

Earlier this year [Obama] was telling audiences that parents need to “turn off the television set, and put the video games away.” Then again, since the Burnout billboard specifically advises gamers to vote early, maybe it’s his subtle way of trying to get them off the couch.

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