In early June, some Xbox owners fired up their consoles and were greeted with an ad supporting the election campaign of conservative Canadian politician Doug Ford. Ford, who was the Progressive Conservative Party candidate and has been compared to Donald Trump, rode a wave of reactionary populism and won his bid to become premier of Ontario that same month.
According to a Microsoft spokesperson, “The ad was limited in scope, region and timing, running for a few days last June. We regularly seek input from the community and decided to remove the ad.”
The Ford ad was a pilot program to test political advertising on Xbox, but based on community feedback Microsoft has decided not to explore this segment in the future.
It’s not the first time that Microsoft has placed political ads on its popular gaming console’s dashboard. In 2012 the Obama campaign placed ads on the Xbox dashboard, to the displeasure of gamers who get hives when they see ads in general. And in 2014, the Washington Post reported that Microsoft courted political advertisers at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
But things have been quiet until the Ford ad in June, which appears to have been an attempt by Microsoft to dip its toes back into political advertising on its flagship console. Gamers also seemed to dislike the ad, judging by posts on social media and in forums.
The ad featured a beer can with the election slogans “Buck a Beer” and “Vote Cheaper Beer,” and Doug Ford’s name. One of Ford’s campaign promises, which hasn’t panned out, was to reduce the price of beer in Ontario to $1. At a Wednesday night event in Toronto called “How the Ontario Election Was Won,” Ford’s campaign manager Kory Teneycke reportedly boasted about the Xbox ad, saying that “buck a beer” was a popular campaign promise with 18 to 45-year-old males.
According to a report by by Windows Central last year, 69 percent of Xbox One players are between 18 and 44 years old, and just over half are male, according to what the outlet said were internal Microsoft documents.
“I commented about it on Twitter at the time because I was surprised the PC [Progressive Conservative] party would be savvy enough to try something like that,” Toronto-based science illustrator Glendon Mellow, who saw the Ford ad on his Xbox dashboard in June, told Motherboard in an email. “Captive audience, though the PCs are barking up the wrong tree in our household.”
It’s unclear whether Microsoft approached the Ford campaign or vice-versa for the pilot program. Spokespeople for the Progressive Conservative Party did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
Video games have long had a complicated relationship with ads, and with politics, and especially with the two together.
Beyond the implicit ambient politics embedded in all games, explicit ads and product placements have long had a place in games, going back decades. In 2008, the Obama campaign took out ads in 18 games, which appeared in the form of in-game banners or billboards. But in the online era, where consoles double as media centers with updatable dashboards, a shift occurred: Ads could be splashed right in the faces of gamers logging on, similar to how they’re displayed on web browsers.
Motherboard hasn't seen reports of any more political ads appearing on the Xbox dashboard since the Ford ad in June (if you have, let us know), but it’s clearly an ongoing flirtation for the console and the industry at large.
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