15 Ways Zynga’s Ad Platform Could Ruin The Fun For Draw Something

There are many ways to integrate brands into games, but forcing players to draw brand-related images could be a real fun-killer for Draw Something (featuring bonus gallery of amazing brand logos).

Game-maker OMGPOP is Zynga’s latest toy. Zynga snapped up the startup for $200 million after OMGPOP’s Draw Something, a sort of Pictionary for your smartphone, took off in popularity, rocketing to some 50 million downloads.


Now Zynga, a publicly traded company, is trying to prove it spent hundreds of millions of dollars on more than just a blank piece of paper and a few digital crayons. Yesterday, the company’s advertising platform for Draw Something was unveiled for the first time–and, if not handled with some finesse, it’s a great potential example of forced brand interaction.

Advertisers now have the option to purchase drawing terms related to their brands. When a user opens Draw Something, the game gives three options to choose from–say, tennis, pancake, or snowball–which players then doodle for a friend, who in turn has to guess what that user has drawn. Soon, however, users will start to see brands among the fun options typically available–imagine trying to draw Hewlett-Packard or Toyota–which could quickly turn the game into a mobile version of Brand Tags. The NHL is one of the earliest advertisers on the platform, hoping to promote the Stanley Cup playoffs. But not all brands are as player-friendly as the hockey league.

It’s not just that the ads are coming at a poor time–reports indicate that Draw Something’s usage is beginning to wane–but that the platform itself could annoy the heck out of a lot of the game’s most-devoted users. Draw Something’s secret sauce isn’t so secret: The game is fun to play with family and friends. By introducing what amounts to spam into such an intimate and beloved game, Zynga risks detracting from Draw Something’s winning formula. I spent the better part of last night drunkenly doodling the above 15 drawings (My apologies to Starbucks) and I don’t think it’s that fun drawing brands. Of course, it’s likely that advertisers will offer other things to draw beyond their logo, and that’s challenge number one for the platform–to offer something compelling to draw that’s brand-related.

More to the point, the platform could be especially annoying because it potentially forces brand interaction for not one but two people, a prolonged interaction that has users on both ends trying to draw a brand and then guess it too.

Sure, there are other forms of offensive, intrusive advertisement, like pre-roll YouTube ads or a Like-to-see-on-Facebook promotion. But there’s another model that’s even more annoying–the active, inescapable form of intrusion, as embodied by those pesky branded captchas we’re starting to see pop up. Zynga needs to be mindful of not recreating that most wrath-generating of brand platforms.

If you want to get a taste of what Draw Something could become, just try to draw IBM or Toshiba or Exxon Mobil. Believe me: The game loses much of its charm during that process.


See the slide show above for some examples of branded drawings.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.