That's right: "Halo 3" won't be out for almost a year, so why advertise now?
The ad might help offset consumer frenzy over new game systems from rivals Nintendo (Wii) and Sony (PlayStation 3) -- Microsoft's Xbox 360 system bowed last holiday -- but its timing also takes advantage of the current mad-for-gaming mind-set in an attempt to create "appointment TV for advertising."
'Reach and frequency'
"We're redefining reach and frequency," said Jeff Bell, corporate VP-global marketing at Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business. "We're using 'Monday Night Football' for reach ... and we'll accumulate the frequency online."
That frequency likely will come from "Halo" fans, often called the "Halo Nation." Fans who download and dissect the commercial will find, for instance, a weapon being reintroduced from the original game, the ability to strap a weapon onto the back of Master Chief (the protagonist) and a new force-field shield defense. Granted, that might not mean much to the average consumer, but those details will give fans reasons to watch and re-watch the movie-trailer-like spot.
While it's de rigeur Hollywood to show trailers for anticipated sequels a year or more in advance of their release, the strategy is foreign in the gaming world. But "Halo" is unique in the industry, having sold almost 15 million units for more than $700 million in sales, and "Halo 3" is the last game of the trilogy.
'Biggest gaming franchise'
"For any other game, you'd question it, but 'Halo' is the biggest gaming franchise, and fans have such a fever and blind passion for the game," said Scott Duchon, creative director for Xbox at Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann WorldGroup, San Francisco. Mr. Duchon pointed out that Bungie.net (the website of "Halo" developer Bungie Studios) had posted one still from the commercial late last week, and by today the image had generated 14 pages of reader comments.
Mr. Bell said Microsoft had considered other shows to reach a mass audience -- "Lost" was a contender until the show ended its fall season last month -- but "Monday Night Football" offered the biggest reach available. The "Halo 3" spot, half of which is live-action, will air between 9 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. EST and will be available on Halo3.com, Xbox Live Marketplace, Microsoft Soapbox and YouTube. The commercial will also air in movie theaters beginning Dec. 15.
Additional "Halo" content will be available before next fall. A new "Halo 2" download will be ready in the spring, as will a chance for players to participate in a beta version of "Halo 3" that could lead to changes and add-ons to the final product. (Players can sign up for the beta test at Halo3.com.)
Video-gaming kind of holiday
It's been a video-gaming kind of holiday, with PlayStation 3 and Wii game systems selling out across the country, marked -- and marred -- by pre-order glitches, overnight waits and a general under-availability of both systems. Nintendo said it has sold more than 600,000 units in the U.S. alone, and Sony is estimated to have sold around 200,000 PS3s. The companies expect more units and sales before the end of the year, possibly up to 800,000 units sold.
Microsoft is counting on the others' shortages to help its sales; the company estimates it will have shipped 10 million Xbox 360s by year's end.
"This is a 'no stone left unturned' strategy," Mr. Bell said. "We wouldn't want to steal the thunder from our competition. Not! Of course we do."