PoweRBrands: The Facebook marketing game about marketing

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Advergames on Facebook are nothing new -- there are Facebook games marketing everything from cars to the distrubingly wholesome power of milk, and practically everything in between. But so far there hasn't been a Facebook advergame that markets the field of marketing itself. Until now!

PoweRBrands is a creation of Reckitt Benckiser -- the parent company of brands like Clearasil, Lysol and Woolite -- that invites you to "use your innovative sales skills and marketing ideas to outperform your rivals, and work your way up to be President of the company." Along the way, you're told you'll learn to "think and act like an RB person" and "learn something about global FMCG along the way" (that's "fast-moving consumer goods" for those of you who aren't already marketing professionals)

At first glance, PoweRBrands resembles countless other room-decorating Facebook games. Completing tasks from your inbox earns you money to decorate your Spartan office and experience points to move you up the virtual corporate ladder. It's only when you actually try to complete one of those tasks that the proceedings take on a weird, corporate-training-video quality.
A typical inbox task might ask you to make a music video for a VEET campaign, or evaluate ad spending on a Clearasil campaign. Seems like good fodder for some fun, simple mini-games, but instead poweRBrands gives you a colorful slider and asks you to "allocate resources" to various areas of campaign development. In the video task, for instance, you have to decide whether to star in the video yourself or outsource the talent to an outside agency.

At first I thought this might be a fun way to show my creativity and roleplay how I would run a real marketing campaign. But the game had other ideas, presenting me with a very strict idea of the "ideal" allocation and a disturbingly precise percentage score evaluating my resource allocation. Sliders set too far off the accepted standard earn harsh admonishment from the boss and much less money and experience for the task. Successful allocation (which for me usually meant leaving the sliders in their default positions) earns praises and rewards, of course.

The creep-factor is illustrated quite well by a typical task in which a co-worker calls and asks whether you'll be able to finish a project in time to join her for a run. A slider gives you the option to say you'll be "done on time" or that the project will "take all night." With no other knowledge about the project, it's hard to know the right answer. Should you rush to finish promptly, meeting your deadline but possibly doing a sloppy job in the process? Should you burn the midnight oil, ensuring a quality result that might be too late to be useful? What to choose? The game is not worried by such dilemmas -- the result screen simply says that finishing quickly and going for a run is "the ideal answer." As the game plainly puts it: "At RB, we work hard and we play hard."

It's lines like this that make me think of poweRBrands as an fun and innovative way to train actual marketing professionals on corporate policy. It's definitely a heck of a lot more engaging than watching hours of training videos, for instance. As a game for people who just want to pretend to be marketing executives, though, poweRBrands is a bit too heavy-handed and buttoned-down. For a field that's supposed to be about fostering creativity, powerBrands manages to make marketing feel like a chore.
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