Activision Asks TBWA for Biggest Entertainment Launch Ever

Video-Game Maker Wants to Break Sales Record for 'Call of Duty' Sequel

By Published on . 4

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Video-game giant Activision-Blizzard has tapped TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, to handle marketing for its much-anticipated "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2." Now the agency must make good on a doozy of a creative brief: Make the November release of the game the "biggest entertainment launch of all time" -- bigger than any video game, any movie or other entertainment property.

'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2'
'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2'
TBWA was handed the assignment after a quiet pitch and joins an impressive roster of creative shops assembled by the company's chief creative officer, Brad Jakeman, who arrived at the Santa Monica, Calif., marketer last year. Mr. Jakeman said he considered three other shops for lead creative duties for "Modern Warfare 2," Razorfish and Droga5 (which are already on the marketer's roster), and Mother, New York.

Activision-Blizzard, whose other franchises include the immensely popular "Guitar Hero" and "World of Warcraft," wants to beat previous sales records set by video games such as "Grand Theft Auto" and blockbuster movies such as "Dark Knight."

What it's trying to beat
The biggest opening weekend for any movie to date was 2008's "Dark Knight," which raked in $158 million at the box office, according to data from online database Box Office Mojo. Others that had big opening weekends in Hollywood were "Spider-Man 3," which saw nearly $151 million at the box office, and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" with $136 million.

The past couple of years have set a precedent for video-game launches eclipsing box-office numbers. Microsoft in the fall of 2007 touted "Halo 3" as the biggest entertainment launch in history when it brought in $170 million in the U.S. alone on the first day it was available, with more than 1.7 million copies pre-ordered domestically. The following May, Take-Two Interactive Software announced that "Grand Theft Auto IV" topped the "Halo 3" launch, selling 3.6 million units on its opening day with a retail value of $310 million globally.

"We believe the idea that TBWA presented to us delivers on that goal," said Mr. Jakeman. "What we liked most about the TBWA campaign is that it's an idea that's big enough to be articulated in lots of different kind of media ... that is always the acid test for a great idea." The executions will likely span TV, print, out-of-home, social media, online, and PR pushes.

Activision and TBWA declined to say when the first marketing push for "Modern Warfare 2" will be rolled out, but it's safe to say it will be well ahead of the November launch date.

'Building a movement'
Said Mr. Jakeman: "The strategic objective is not to just run advertising on day one and say 'Go to a retailer and buy the game,' but it is to really start building a movement and start broadening the audience for [Modern Warfare 2] beyond a core gamer audience."

But based on early predictions by analysts, "Modern Warfare 2" already has so much buzz that it might not need much marketing at all.

The game is predicted to be the biggest seller game of 2009, and one analyst put out a note last week saying it could take the crown for the largest entertainment release in history.

Janco Partners' analyst Mike Hickey predicted the game will sell more than 11 million copies in less than two months; by comparison, as of March, the first "Modern Warfare" has sold more than 13 million units worldwide -- since November 2007.

One analyst's prediction
According to Mr. Hickey, "It's possible that the game could be one of the largest entertainment releases of all time. If you assume similar channel unit sales velocity as ['Grand Theft Auto IV'], the game could potentially sell through 7.8 million units globally with an estimated retail value of more than $569 million in the first week ... It's possible the game could sell through to consumers' 4.6 million units globally with an estimated retail value of more than $338 million in the first day."

The addition of TBWA to the Activision-Blizzard roster comes after the company last week appointed WPP's Mediaedge:cia to handle global planning and buying for its estimated $200 million marketing account. These moves are probably the last changes to the marketer's lineup for awhile.

"For this year, the roster is busily working away on all the launches that are happening in the third and fourth quarter," Mr. Jakeman said. "As we launch new titles in the coming years, you're going to see some of those titles go to the existing roster of agencies, and you're going to see new agencies come on board."

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