Serious Comms Strategies Can Be All About Games

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In mid-July, Wired Magazine released an online article praising the hit video game Overwatch. With over 30 million players, the game has been garnering positive attention for releasing a new character with autistic traits. As pointed out in the piece, roughly one percent of the world’s population has autism–suggesting 30,000 people playing the game have as well. Jeff Kaplan, director of Overwatch, describes Symmetra in a letter to an young autistic fan that she is “one of our most beloved heroes.”

Many gamers will choose or design characters that reflect a part of who they are as people. But this is probably one of only a couple times a major character has taken up the autism cause in such a popular game. In fact, Sesame Street introduced a character recently with the same condition.

Meanwhile, Netflix has launched a controversial movie this month about the life of a girl suffering from anorexia. Inspired by physician Richard MacKenzie and written/directed by a former patient of his, “To the Bone” has witnessed major backlash, often labelled as a “trigger” for former patients and a corporate means of glamorizing the disorder. MacKenzie disagrees, but does suggest it “normalizes” eating disorders as a behavior. Director Marti Noxon has released statements defending the film as a “conversation starter.”

Whether loved or rejected, both of these recent stories fall into a pattern: that people choose to see themselves in popular media, and that it should be taken more seriously as a channel for conversations and advocacy.

It’s no secret the communications industry is adopting and innovating faster than ever before. Online ads lead to clickbots, cable TV spots aren’t bringing in the ROI (even ED campaigns might leave the NFL). Ad blockers are a whole new game, social media is essentially guerilla warfare. Suddenly, tasteful documentaries, app and/or console games, and participatory projects like Weirdbox seem worth consideration.

Firms should consider placing their clients in unorthodox channels, as a side-door to audience hearts. Art installations like the “Fearless Girl,” gorgeous short films, online story series, or any other creative mediums have the potential to go viral in their own right, without coming across as a marketing ploy. It’s a brilliant way to say something meaningful without diluting your message with branding.

As this past Cannes event showed us with McCannes “Immunity Charm” initiative, the best vehicles for advocacy might need to be culturally rooted. Advertisements alone aren’t enough.