Wednesday, January 30, 2008
WANTED Posters in Williamsburg
Last night, as I was walking down N. 6th St. in Williamsburg, I noticed a woman veiled in the shadows cast by a scaffold at the corner of Wythe. Though I could not discern her features, it was clear her gaze was fixed nervously upon a sign stapled to the plywood boards that enclosed the construction site before her. It was a sudden, eerie moment, the kind that reminds the late night wanderer he has taken a wrong turn on a dark street, and wound up isolated and vulnerable.
Drawing closer, I was able to make out the cause of her concern. In bold, intimidating letters boomed the headline "WANTED" above a drawing on the fugitive to fear.
Perhaps it was only now that the woman heard my approaching footsteps, for she suddenly turned to look over her shoulder at me before scurrying off down Wythe.
I continued toward the sign, compelled now to discover what menace could be so terrifying to our neighborhood that the police bothered to plaster his mugshot even in an unsavory alcove. Was this where the monster lurked? Finally, the fine print came into focus and I learned what had drawn me into harm's way:
An ad! And for a video game, no less. The latest installment in the enormously popular Grand Theft Auto series, in which the player takes on the role of a psychopathic criminal with the goal of unleashing as much mayhem as possible upon his city.
Sound uplifting? According to the WANTED poster issued by the "City of Liberty", the game's protagonist is of Eastern European descent and "wanted for questioning in connection with a shooting at a nightclub in the Hove Beach area of Broker". In line with the type of justice the game advocates, the poster advises that the criminal - who you embody - be shot on sight.
As it so happens, I am teaching advertising for the first time this semester, and so from a professional standpoint I can understand the savvy of an ad like this one. But at what point does a guerilla marketing campaign go too far? Surely, terrorizing the public has to be that bar.
Part of creating an effective ad entails zeroing in on the demographic you want to win for your customers. What type of person is Grand Theft Auto trying to appeal to with fake Wanted posters plastered in the darkest corners of our City? Probably not the type of person you would want to meet if you ended up lured to one of its posters alone at night.