The Artwork of War

PushON | October 30th 2014

OK, I admit it. I’m a closet strategy gamer. Set me up on Total War, Age of Empires or DEFCON and you won’t hear from me until supper time.

The valiant profit more their country than the finest, cleverest speakers


So when a screenshot of one of these historic epics appears on my Twitter timeline, I’m bound to take notice. And that very thing has been happening quite a lot recently (I guess I’ve been gloating about my wedge formation too much). Here’s an example of typical screenshots for the game Throne Rush:

It looks amazing, wouldn’t you say? To my eyes, it’s gratifyingly reminiscent of one of the Total War games. Count me in! And what about this one? Age of Kings on the phone! This time for Age of Warring Empires:

But the similarities end at Google Play. Because the images used bear no resemblance to the games. Both appear to be mathematical-based strategy games rather than real-time strategy games. The advertisers have used screenshots from popular PC titles to advertise their own apps. Ethical? Hmmmm. Look at this ad (for Heroes Charge):

It’s clearly not a screenshot but an illustrative image, like the type you’d see advertising a Hollywood movie. There isn’t a problem here. Nobody would imagine the game looks like that. But to use another title’s in-game graphics to advertise your own app seems to be dishonest, even if the general theme of the game is similar and they both appeal to similar audiences.

War is not so much a matter of weapons, as of money.


It’s not beyond credibility that some of these titles (especially Age of Kings, which was released in 1999 and required 32MB of RAM and 300MB of disk space and ran at 800×600 pixels) could well have had their rights bought and been ported to Android. Anyone who has played the games knows exactly what they are. Some have downloaded the apps and found themselves looking at a completely different game, featuring in-app purchases.

Ludum pecuniam exiguus detesta matribus.

In-app micro-purchases, the dread of mothers.



To those of you considering rushing headlong into a strategy, hold your horses.

Quick decisions are unsafe decisions.


The thing with promoted tweets is that they allow responses, just like any other tweets. And the responses to these ads are (almost) unanimous in their condemnation.


A people’s voice is dangerous when charged with wrath.


If a potential customer taps on your ad card and reads a column of vitriolic responses, you’ve probably lost a sale – and paid for the privilege.

Veni, vidi, removentur.

I came, I saw, I uninstalled.

Gaius Julius Caesar

Advertising has never been noted for its self-effacing honesty. Have you ever eaten a hamburger that looks like its picture? But then burger joints have never historically listed the angry responses of their dissatisfied customers. And most nations have some sort of trades description legislation to protect consumers.

All warfare is based on deception.

Sun Tzu

Is Twitter Responding?

Some of the responses to the ads appeal directly to Twitter, inviting the company to take action. But since these ads have been running for several months now, we can probably assume that Twitter is comfortable with the practice. Perhaps if The Creative Assembly/Sega (TW) or Microsoft (AoE) made a formal complaint, the ads could be pulled, but as things stand, the makers of this app can carry on passing off other games as their own in screenshots. (It’s possible that the organisations have allowed the use of their in-game imagery, so there might not be a copyright issue here. But the fact remains that the images look nothing like the games.) Rule 2 of Twitter’s Ads Policies is clear on the subject:

2. Promote honest content and target it responsibly.

Advertisers are responsible for the authenticity of promoted content. Be honest with both the content of your ads and how you target them. Do not select targeting criteria that could reveal sensitive information about users. Don’t subject users to advertising that isn’t relevant to your brand or product.

Silent enim leges inter arma

Laws are silent in times of war


A Question of Trust

While we’ve focused on one particular product here, that isn’t really the point of this post. Surely there’s a wider point to make about the credibility of Twitter as an advertising platform if it becomes easy to abuse.

Pardon one offence and you encourage the commission of many

Pulibius Syrus

We’ve pointed out before that Twitter, thanks to its intelligent use of targeting to deliver relevant ads to individual users, can deliver magnificent returns on investment for advertisers – engagement of up to 5% isn’t unusual, which might not sound like much to the untrained marketer but which is impressive in terms of online advertising. But this will only last as long as Twitter is a place where users can trust that the ads they’re following up will be honest.

Victory loves prudence

Latin proverb

Advertising on Twitter is still relatively new; hopefully the network will realise that it already has a platform that can generate vast revenues while maintaining quality and integrity. Or perhaps the problem will sort itself out through natural selection as stung users teach themselves to use the responses to the ads as a barometer and stay away.

An adversary is more hurt by desertion than by slaughter.


What’s odd is that Throne Rush does actually seem to have a decent number of fans who play and enjoy it. Advertising with other games’ screenshots could turn out to be detrimental if fans of the lifted games are turned away (Total War games alone have sold several million copies). In case you’re interested, here’s what the game looks like:

Make your own mind up!


Pedrom“With Twitter ads being made readily available for every Tom, Dick and Harry, we now have to look into how these ads are monitored to prevent any spam tweets clogging our timelines. On numerous occasions I have come across irrelevant targeted ads that I have instantly blocked and reported as spam, but what happens to these ads? Well at the moment it seems like nothing! You will still get targeted by them unless you block the Twitter account. With paid social media growing at its fastest rate now, Facebook has put the perfect policies in place to prevent the same type of spam we see on Twitter. Facebook ads can only contain 20% of text in images that are being used and ads have to be approved by the Facebook Ads team. Twitter needs to come up with a similar process pretty soon before users start getting overwhelmed with ads and get fed up with spammy timelines with ads that are open to abuse. It seems that there is an approval process for Twitter ads:

Twitter Ads can be reviewed prior to running in campaigns. They are submitted for approval on an automatic basis, based on an account’s advertising status, its historical use of Twitter, and other evolving factors. Review generally takes into consideration how an account uses Twitter, its profile, and content and targeting included in any active or draft advertising campaigns.

Twitter Help Center

Are you getting fed up by the type of ads you keep seeing and do Twitter need a stricter ads approval process?”

Pedrom Pourkashanian, Social Media and Online Marketing Consultant

It seems like paid social (or at least some of those who are newer to the paid advertising concept) could be in the Wild West of online advertising as all the platforms are still looking for their trusty sheriff to chase all these online outlaws off their ranches! Certainly from a PPC point of view there are strict rules governing this type of behaviour and while there maybe the odd cheeky blighter who slips through the net, this is largely very well enforced and monitored.

The other aspect to consider is, is this even wise? The whole concept of paid advertising is that you entice people to click your ad based on it being a relevant answer to the search they have just typed into their search engine of choice … this, of course, costs money, hence the reason for it being called paid advertising. So if you are then presenting them with a product, service etc. that they neither searched for nor wanted in the first place, there is a high likelihood that they will leave your site rather swiftly, most likely without parting with any of their hard earned cash!

Andy Darnell, Paid Search Manager