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Madden NFL 25 had an uphill battle for its rollout last August. For one, the game has been around for 25 years, so generating excitement is a challenge.
But there was a bigger issue at play: the game consoles. Both the Xbox360 and the PlayStation 3 have been around for more than seven years, and the next-generation consoles were coming out in November, after the game's release. Many gamers, it was feared, wouldn't want to plunk down cash for a game until after the new consoles went on sale. And after shelling out for a new console, they might be cash-strapped.
On top of all that, the target audience for video games, tech-savvy males ages 12-to-35, tend to be an elusive bunch marketing-wise, given that they're the least likely cohort to watch TV in real time and they often install ad blockers.
So the challenge for its agency, Heat, was clear: Get gamers excited about the next Madden release and get them to buy the game when it came out.
In the Madden series, the biggest changes year-to-year are in the roster of players, said Steve Stone, founder and exec creative director at Heat. So marketing a massive change in game play wasn't possible. But Heat's research found the primary reason gamers buy Madden is the element of social competition. Loyal Madden players often spark highly competitive rivalries.
Heat's campaign focused on that rivalry, engaging consumers with epic rivalry stories of NFL players like Arian Foster of the Houston Texans and Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. In the ad, the rivals spend their entire lives training to get into pro football specifically so that they can beat each other at Madden 25.
Heat took rivalry a step further, calling on Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks for a TV spot in which they wager a bet that the losing quarterback in an upcoming real-life NFL game would have to shave an eyebrow. The agency took over the ESPN homepage to support the launch of the wager, along with a significant social-media push.
Unfortunately for Mr. Kaepernick, the 49ers lost, and he shaved his eyebrow.
The client was more fortunate. Seven weeks after the launch, Madden sold 1.9 million copies. Sales were up 5% year-over-year, and up 6% over the forecast.
"The real time, dynamic nature of the effort put our brand at the center of the football conversation at its most compelling moments," said Carolyn Feinstein, EA Sports' senior VP-global consumer