Scotland plans in-game public service ads

The Scottish government recently announced that its anti-drinking and driving campaign will utilize video game ad space.

Public Service Announcements (PSAs) in the past have had a very low impact on behavior. An estimate of the size of the audience for the US Ad Council's drunk driving campaign earlier in the decade detailed just how limited the influence was. 902 television ads were shown in 30 markets, and data showed that an average of only 11.2% of households watched even a single PSA.

With the television audience becoming more segmented, making it less and less viable as a public service medium, Scotland has opted for a new approach. Today, it announced it will test the efficacy of in-game advertisements -- an area currently dominated by companies strategically placing products or using dynamic background advertisements. Its objective is to reach more people than TV advertisements ever did.

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The project will cost a reported 10,000 pounds ($19,829.87 as of Wednesday) and place ads upon virtual billboards in these Xbox 360 games: Project Gotham Racing 4, NBA Live, and Need for Speed: Carbon. The latter was recently used by the British government for advertising as well.

Earlier, Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) announced it would embed

advertisements in online multi-player games, to alert gamers to job opportunities in the government agency.

Some academics believe that a properly designed, sensitively measured public service campaign has the potential to be very influential. Furthermore, video games have an audience of approximately 73% of 15- to 24-year olds in Great Britain according to a government survey. A campaign against drinking and driving in racing simulators seems a good fit with a large potential audience.

Government PSAs were famously placed in arcade games in the late 80s to mid 90s with the "Winners Don't Use Drugs" campaign established by then-FBI Director William S. Sessions, and the "Recycle It, Don't Trash It!" campaign against pollution.

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