To me, though, the most interesting thing about Admongo is its emphasis on the ubiquity of ads. A previous FTC-designed game, called You Are Here, also urged kids to consider where ads come from and to examine the truth of marketing claims. But in Admongo, a major part of playing the game is understanding that ads can be anywhere and can take many different forms. The player encounters text-message ads, ads inside videogames, cross-promotions, and product placements.
This element of Admongo is testament to the explosion of new advertising platforms and the fierce intensity of modern marketing. According to Linn, in 2008 American Idol—consistently a top-rated show for 2-11 year-olds—featured 4,151 product placements in its first 38 episodes, averaging 14 minutes of product placement on each show. Kids are now constantly in front of screens of all kinds, and those screens are brimming with ads that pretend they aren't ads. These days, just being able to recognize when you're being marketed to is a useful skill.
For instance, check out the Admongo poster, which the FTC includes with the package of curriculum materials it makes available to teachers. The poster is meant to be hung up in classrooms. It's an illustration that helps kids spot all the different places ads can appear, from cereal boxes to magazines to blimps in the sky. Ironically, in the poster's lower right corner is the logo for Scholastic—which worked with the FTC on the Admongo project, and which sells books and other products through its catalogs to a captive school-kid audience.
"The Scholastic name helps in terms of getting our curriculum into classrooms," said one FTC representative I spoke to. "With Scholastic, you're talking about a known commodity for teachers, while they might not be that familiar with the FTC."
Behold the power of branding, kids. And consider this a learning opportunity.