Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What Would You Do? 

This is an interesting case. The US Army contracts for a video game to help sign recruits. It's exciting and lets one use the "gee-whiz" equipment the Army will take to the battlefield and -- Wow! -- one can win against the enemy every time.

The game designer is unhappy because the Army won't let the game player lose, nor will the Army let the enemy learn from tactics the player employs, as any enemy would do.

The Army's answer to that is that it is a marketing tool and not a realistic depiction of the horrors of the battlefield. On the other hand, why shouldn't the Army provide a realistic description of war when it is asking people to sign up for duty?

This is the kind of conundrum in which PR practitioners and marketers should end up on opposite ends of the spectrum. Practitioners should side with the game designer, and marketers with the Army's decision. Why? A PR practitioner should trust that individuals can make up their own minds when presented with facts persuasively. A marketer is intent on selling and will take shortcuts to do so. A PR practitioner should be worried about false depiction and its effect on reputation. A marketer is focused on moving players from screens to recruiting stations.

Whose right? Both are. The Army wants a recruiting tool and got one. Score points for marketers. The Army's recruiting tool could and -- and should -- have been better. Score points for public relations practitioners.

The point is at the heart of what marketers and PR practitioners do, there is a fundamental difference. Each discipline views the world in its own way. Marketers train to complete transactions. PR practitioners train to explain accurately, protect reputation and complete transactions. Both should reach the same end point if they do their jobs right, but marketing wants to get there more quickly. Given the pressure the Army has to recruit, it will favor marketing's approach more often.

I'm not a video game player, but it seems to me a game that is too predictable fails to respect the intelligence of players. At least, the few times I played Sim City, I came to that conclusion. Once one learned the patterns of the game, it was the same approach over and over. The city got larger, and so did the problems, but the game got boring in the end. But then, I'm not a teenager, and I already performed military service.

We agree with you. The facts are not well represented and, while the marketers are doing their jobs, there could very well be many recruits who see battle through rose-colored glasses.

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