In what may very well be the ultimate targeted marketing campaign, AKQA spent an entire weekend mounting a calculated assault on one Call of Duty (colloquially known as COD amongst fans and detractors alike) game in order to promote the next game in the series.
The “Hostile Takeover” activation for the upcoming COD: Infinite Warfare game played out like a 4-day long puzzle that circumvented the usual paid media outlets, instead reaching millions of people, directly, through the fictional world of the existing COD: Black Ops 3 title. It's similar in concept to the tactics used by developers Activision last year, when it promoted Black Ops 3 through a series of Snapchats hidden inside Black Ops 2, but this time we're operating on a far grander scale.
The ambitious execution, which eventually climaxed with the reveal of the official Infinite Warfare reveal trailer kicked off last Friday (April 29) on the Nuketown map of Black Ops 3. A mysterious spaceship suddenly appeared in the cinematic clip that ends the level, immediately leading to players who'd already seen the clip hundreds of times, sans spaceship, speculating on what it could mean. The next morning (Saturday April 30), the villains from the upcoming game invaded the world of Black Ops 3, leaving incendiary propaganda all over the place. Then, on Sunday morning (May 1), the hero from Infinite Warfare, “Lt. Reyes,” appeared and directed players to a “Secure communications channel” (Facebook Messenger, naturally) where players could interact with him and ask for help finding clues hidden within the game and the internet at large. Finally, on Monday, May 2, the Infinite Warfare trailer was able to be unlocked by using a 12 digit code, and players who cracked said code didn't only have access to the trailer before anyone else, but were also promised access to unique content when the game drops later this year.
Official Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare – Reveal Trailer
It was a four stage, multichannel assault that used both Facebook Messenger and the existing game in a bold and inventive way, and whilst it didn't all go as swimmingly as everyone hoped (the trailer was leaked on Hulu several hours before the codes were delivered), it's an example of the kind of creative execution that's only possible through interactive media. It's also a surprisingly subtle way of pushing a COD game to existing COD players, which is arguably likely to be far more powerful than any outsider effort. The Facebook Messenger integration, which involved an automated conversation engineered by PullString, was also a smart play, as users could access the messages using their phones whilst they were playing the game, leading to a fully immersive experience.
AKQA Group Creative Director, Nick Strada, said of the activation: “No ad or stunt or microsite or commercial is ever going to be better than the greatest game ever. So, what we try to do is create a really awesome Call of Duty experience. We take the game, and the principles of the game, and bring it to life in a way that the marketing vanishes into the game and creates moments that are memorable and shareable and awesome.” Todd Harvey, SVP of Global Consumer Marketing at Activision, added: “For the reveal of Infinite Warfare, our goal was to create a massive social event that fans wouldn't just witness, but would experience together as it unfolded, both in-game and across all Call of Duty social channels. We recognise that our audience spends a great deal of time engaging with Call of Duty both inside and out of game, and the 'Hostile Takeover' reveal program was designed to engage our fans where they are, online, having fun, playing Call of Duty.”
What are your thoughts on the campaign? Do you think the multichannel approach was a smart and elegant way to push the new game, and a herald of things to come regarding in-game advertising that actually improves the game, rather than impeding it? Or was it all just a little bit on the nose? Feel free to sound off in the comments below!