Activision's Ambitious 'Modern Warfare 2' Rollout on Target

TBWA, Tasked With 'Biggest Entertainment Launch' Ever, Helps Sell 7 Million Copies Within Day of Release

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Looks like a marketing mission accomplished for video-game publisher Activision and its agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles.

TBWA was hired this summer after a creative shootout that asked agencies to create a campaign that would make Activision's "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" the "biggest entertainment launch of all time." With Tuesday's launch of "Modern Warfare 2," it seems to be on-track to do that -– at least based on first-day sales. More than 7 million copies of the game sold within 24 hours, according to video-game tracker VGChartz.com. The site is also estimating that sales should top 10 million for the week, easily besting "Grand Theft Auto 4's" previous 5.9 million one-week record last year.

That's one industry down, but the brief did specify "biggest entertainment launch." At the movies, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" has held the worldwide title for opening weekend with $302 million in box-office sales, while the Batman sequel "The Dark Knight" has held the top U.S. title with $158 million in its opening weekend, according to movie ticket tracker Box Office Mojo. (Both have around $1 billion in total revenue but are topped by "Titanic" at $1.8 billion in worldwide box office.)

Activision is keeping mum on numbers for now, a spokesman said. But a week of unit sales in the 7 million to 10 million range at the minimum $60 game price (limited and special-version editions cost more) would mean a $420 million to $600 million "Harry Potter"-busting week.

GameStop has said "MW2" accounted for more pre-orders than any other in its history, and gaming analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities, on GameTrailers.com' "Bonus Round" show last week, said the game could sell 14 million units by the end of the year. While he doesn't believe it will be the best-selling game of all time, he said, "Most people think this thing will do 10 to 12 [million]. It really depends on marketing. If they blitz the airwaves and we see ads on every basketball game, football game, college football game, every beauty pageant, when 'American Idol' starts -- and they're going to do that -- maybe 14 [million]. How many will it sell in a 12-month period? Maybe 17 or 18 [million]. But over 20 million? That's hard to do."

But is "Modern Warfare's" success all about marketing? According to Nielsen data, it has certainly helped. Online buzz levels were strong in the month leading up to launch, with key metrics such as awareness, purchase intent and purchase urgency outperforming the previous version consistently since May.

Unaided awareness of the launch date among gamers was 12% vs. 2% for that of an average video game release, with 46% of gamers reporting seeing an ad on TV, according to Nielsen's recent surveys. Another 30% said they heard about the game via word-of-mouth, and 28% saw an online review or preview.

Purchase interest tracked high, 21% versus 8% for an average video game, while purchase intent ran higher, 37% versus 19% for a typical title, according to Nielsen.

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