Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Product Placement on the WWW

By Devin D. O'Leary

MAY 18, 1998: 

Buy Me, Byte Me

Just the other day, I received in the mail a copy of "The Lost Island of Alanna." This CD-ROM game is part of Cherry Coke's colossal summer promotion. They're actually distributing half a million free copies of this computer game to promote awareness of their sugary beverage. In order to play the game you need to A) get the CD-ROM, B) drink lots of Cherry Coke and C) visit the company's Web site. Fact is, lots of companies have been turning to the Web to promote their products. With the millions of Web sites worldwide, however, corporate fat cats quickly realized they'd need a gimmick to lure people to their little corner of Cyberspace. I mean, who's gonna bother to show up for just an electronic billboard? We want games, we want videos, we want free stuff! Here are some of the more interesting attempts at product placement on the Web.

Cherry Coke (www.cherrycoke.com)--Here's the one that got me started. I must admit there's an awful lot of effort going into this latest Cherry Coke push. If you haven't tracked down one of the CD-ROMs, you can download a complete version of "The Lost Island of Alanna" right here. Needless to say, the game is a weak rip-off of the multimillion-selling "Myst." Just like "Myst," you're supposed to explore this ancient (and, rather boringly, uninhabited) island, occasionally solving small logic puzzles in order to continue. Coke has insinuated its product into the game by requiring players to obtain clues off bottles of Cherry Coke. My Cherry Coke bottle contained some cuneiform letters on the label and the Roman numeral IX under the cap (or was it XI?). I'm not exactly sure how these "clues" are supposed to help me. The Cherry Coke Web site also contains chat rooms for the legions of allegedly rabid players to exchange hints and tips. There's also a section called the "Standlake University" page which contains "excerpts from a study about Alanna previously published by an archeologist." None of this seems to be of much help in playing the game. Aside from the pretty graphics, there's little difference between "Alanna" and the butt-simple text-only adventure games I used to play on my ancient VIC-20. It's also slooooooow as all get out on my non-Pentium system. But, hey, it's free!

Ragu (www.ragu.com)--Some savvy Web programmer talked the Ragu pasta sauce company into getting its own Web site. Actually, the results are pretty absorbing. The whole site is supposedly run by "Mama"--a hospitality-crazed, homily-filled Italian mother. You can get recipes off Mama, color her placemats and play her videogame. That's right, the Ragu people have their own videogame, titled "Go, Mama, Go!" The object of the game (www.eat.com:80/mamarama2/index.html) is to guide mama through the levels of her home to feed hungry guests with Ragu's new Cheese Creations. Standing in the way of Mama's culinary mission are some giant, mobile meatballs--eat too many and you'll be too full to continue. The "Donkey Kong"-style game boasts some funny graphics, clever gameplay and catchy music. The first few levels are free (in order to play the following levels, you need to get a UPC code off a bottle of Cheese Creations). "Go, Mama, Go!" operates off a proprietary plug-in called ClickToons. ClickToons (which is less than 150K and only takes a couple seconds to download) allows real-time game play with music, regardless of the end user's connection. Getting ClickToons installed was a breeze. Unfortunately, after two days of attempting to download the game itself, all I ever wound up with was an error message telling me: "Failed to load file. It might be missing." But, hey, it's free!

Slush Puppies (www.slushpuppie.co.uk)--My entire youth was spent at the Circle K down the street reading Captain America comic books and sucking down Slush Puppies. Who knew they were actually British? Well, they are, and those industrious Brits have now fashioned a pretty nice Slush Puppie presence in cyberspace. Come to the "Slush Works" and you can explore a rainbow-colored Slush Puppie factory populated by happy canine wage slaves. Explore the 10 different factory rooms by clicking on Slush Puppie's telescope and peering into each room (yeah, sounds a bit voyeuristic to me, too). Each room contains an assortment of information, games and activities. There's the Ice Room, the Flavor Room, the Testing Room (which was closed for some odd reason when I visited). The Shockwave games (like the self-explanatory "Catch or Splat Game" in the Flavor Room) are all pretty simple, but entertaining nonetheless. The frame-based browsing system tends to hang up a lot, which could frustrate younger visitors. But, hey, it's free!

--Devin D. O'Leary


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