I understand why people are angry — I think that's pretty obvious (and justified). But personally I just can't find the energy to be angry at Mario Kart 8.
Yesterday we had an opportunity to take a look at Mario Kart 8's new Mercedes product placement in action. It ran under the headline 'Mario Kart's DLC Is So Gross'. I watched the video and agreed. "Yes, this is pretty creepy." "I don't know if I like this." But it didn't necessarily fill me with rage. Truth be told my reaction was one of ambivalence.
There were a number of reasons for this.
First is the fact that this content is optional. It isn't part of some mandatory update. The Mercedes product placement will not be forced down my throat or the throats of other consumers. If I want to experience the mild disconnect of driving real world Mercedes cars in a mascot driven karting game I can do that, but I first have to make that choice. This is product placement in its least obtrusive form — I have to literally choose to have that product placed in front of me.
So that's the first, most obvious point.
The second reason is this: being angry at the product placement in Mario Kart means being angry at everything. It means being angry at all product placement across all types of media. It means being angry when James Bond steps in a sexy new car, or when he uses a Sony laptop. It means being angry at every summer blockbuster. It means being angry at advertising in general. Real life cars are added to racing games all the time. Gran Turismo, Forza — we celebrate when certain racing games add new real world cars to their roster.
Obviously, there is a difference between Mario Kart and Forza. Obviously a brand new Mercedes is at home in one and looks hilariously out of place in another — but it's part of the same problem. It's stealth marketing. It's merely another avenue for big brands to battle for our mind space. One is merely a little more blatant than the other. If I have to get angry about Mercedes featuring in Mario Kart I have to be angry all of the time. That's exhausting.
Take a look from this perspective. Yesterday The Expendabros was announced, a tie-in between Broforce and The Expendable 3. The Expendabros is cross brand exercise designed to promote two separate products. I'm fairly certain money was exchanged here. This wasn't done for the hell of it. The Expendabros, without doubt, a marketing stunt for the movie The Expendables 3.
The similarities between the Mario Kart DLC and The Expendabros are astounding. They're basically two examples of the exact same thing. They're both free. They both feature product placement. In Mario Kart it's Mercedes cars and in The Expendebros it's characters from the movie. What's the difference here? Some vague concept of the 'purity' of the Mario Kart brand?
The argument, I'm guessing, is something along the lines of "real world cars don't belong in Mario Kart, it feels weird" or "The Expendebros tie-in feels right, it makes sense" — that might be right, but is the core concept any different? I'd argue no. The only difference is in the execution. One has been executed clumsily, the other is more subtle.
And which one should you really be more angry at? That's an important question. The marketing that seeps into your brain-space stealthily or the marketing you can spot from a mile away? Which one is more likely to influence your behaviour?
In a perfect world we should probably be getting angry at both examples — but marketing is an every day reality whether we like it or not. It assaults us from the buses we catch to work, to the television we watch, to the video games we play. This is the world we live in. Maybe I'm just dulled to the impact of it; but at this point, I'm finding it difficult to muster the energy to be angry about a couple of real world cars being added to Mario Kart.