The campaign centers around Beta7, an ostensible beta tester for a new Sega title who discovers "the truth" about the game and its "First Person Football" feature-it causes him to black out and unwittingly tackle random people. He creates a website, Beta7.com to aggregate evidence, appeal to other gamers, and ultimately to block the product's release. The blog-driven campaign also used voicemail, newspaper ads, and, to some extent, TV ads to create a conspiratorial buzz around the new game and to incite an online dialogue among gamers over Beta7's authenticity. The campaign unfolded according to input and reaction from the community, says W+K creative director Ty Montague, who describes the initiative as "improv marketing," "like doing Saturday Night Live seven days a week." From the first postings in July, plot devices included having Beta7 send beta copies of the game to nine gamers, then sending a letter from Sega to the recipients, firmly requesting the game's return; having Sega shut down Beta7's site, then launch its own thinly disguised "fan" site, Gamerchuck.com; and adapting existing TV spots to include a defensive disclaimer about game-induced violence. W+K worked on the campaign with The Haxans, the directing team behind The Blair Witch Project, which was successfully marketed through an online hoax campaign, and Orlando-based new media production firm GMD Studios. The team also created a film based on the campaign and W+K is currently working with game channel G4 on a deal to air the paranoia-soaked chronicle of events. The film is also screening on Ifilm.com.
Facing the prospect of challenging EA's monster title Madden Football, W+K initially launched a TV campaign featuring comic Tracy Morgan and NFL star Warren Sapp, and then launched the Beta7 "anti-campaign" at opinion-making gamers. "We wanted to generate heat and controversy around 'First Person Football,'" says W+K CD Ty Montague, who acknowledges that the campaign "made people nervous." There were close to 70,000 unique visitors to Beta7.com and 680,000 page views, but more tellingly, says Montague, visitors spent an average of 10.5 minutes once at the site, versus the internet average of 30 seconds or less. According to GMD's reckoning, it all translated into 2.25 million exposures to the campaign. "The facts and figures about traffic are one way to look at it," says Montague. "Another is what impact it had on the culture of gaming. It's harder, though more important to get at the latter. We wanted to generate buzz and controversy among the people in the hardcore gaming community, who basically decide what everyone else thinks about the game." As for Beta7, he may resurface after "going underground" to evade Sega. "I've seen the film they made," he said in a surreptitious phone interview. "It looks pretty Hollywood."
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy/New York CDs: Ty Montague, Todd Waterbury CW: Bobby Hershfield AD: Robert Rasmussen Producer: Temma Shoaf Directors: The Haxans (Mike Monello and Ed Sanchez)/Chelsea Pictures EP: Steve Wax Producer: Anthony Nelson Internet Consultant: Brian Clarke/GMD Studios