How does one advertise an advertisement? Is there some kind of advert-ception that happens when you go too many layers deep, a form of marketing limbo where everything is its own ad? At what point does “meta” become a noun instead of a modifier?

Those were the questions running through my mind when I heard about Imovation. The company – which has released the descriptively-titled 5-hour ENERGY Work Day MARATHON – was founded and backed by angel investors to create “advergames,” which are pretty much what they sound like. Instead of tacking an advertisement to the bottom of your phone’s screen, the guys at Imovation had a developer whip up a real game where 5-hour Energy is a fuel source, powerup, and currency.

Taken skin-deep, the premise makes sense. Mobile is where the money is – Juniper Research has said that mobile shopping will account for $1.7 trillion in sales by 2017 – and  it’s become more and more difficult to get people to pay attention to ads. Want me to watch a banner ad? Too bad, I read Web articles in Instapaper or Pocket (or, increasingly, QUOTE.fm). Want me to watch a video ad? Ha! If it’s on the television (or “telly,” as our English overlords cousins say) I’ll fast forward, and if it’s on the Web I’ll simply turn the volume down and change tabs.

So, in an effort to grab eyeballs and not-so-subliminally convince gamers to purchase a product, Imovation drafts a game and marketing plan, approaches the company, and then contracts the production of the game to an outside developer. The company says that it has partnerships in place with developers that work across a number of game genres, and custom-tailors each game to the advertiser’s needs.

5-hour ENERGY Work Day MARATHON (henceforth referred to as “Marathon”) is Imovation’s first game, and, surprisingly, it’s killing it in the App Store. 26 people have downloaded, played, and given the app an average of five stars. The game is, essentially, a Temple Run clone that has the player dash to work after sleeping through his alarm. 5-hour Energy is used as a powerup that makes the player more alert and less sluggish and as an in-game currency.

The weirdest aspect of Marathon isn’t that it exists – brands have been producing toys, videos, and video games for a long time – it’s that it exists as a paid app. Most of the time a brand chooses to give their product away on the basis that they will recoup their development costs through sales of the genuine product, not the branded content. Imovation has flipped this notion on its head. People are paying to play an advertisement.

That in itself could be counted as a victory for Imovation. Most of the time people are paying to remove ads, and the company has convinced people to do the exact opposite. Up has become down. Left is right. Advertisements, which games used to need in order to sell copies, have become the game.

Does anyone else feel like buying some 5-hour ENERGY?