2008 Creativity Award Winner: Halo 3 Launch Campaign

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Though the $170 million generated in Halo 3's first 24 hours of hitting shelves led many to deem it the biggest launch in entertainment history, the campaign that preceded its release was just as staggering. All-encompassing in medium and global in scope, the Halo 3 marketing attack leveraged the creative talents of McCann's T.A.G., AKQA, Stan Winston and New Deal Studios, along with VFX, music and production houses to produce ARGs, models, viral/web films, TV spots, an interactive site and much more. With the intention to simultaneously reach a mass audience and please the hardcore gamer, T.A.G. conceived an action-filled diorama of a battlefield that served as the centerpiece to tell the story of Halo 3 hero Master Chief. Miniature figurines and set pieces built by Winston and New Deal came together to create a war-torn landscape that became the focal point of TV spots and an interactive web experience from AKQA. Additionally, a series of beautifully-directed short films from Rupert Sanders and Simon McQuoid and live action online promos by Neill Blomkamp (the latter, created directly with Microsoft and Bungie) further explored different facets of the futuristic mythology of Master Chief.

Q&A with T.A.G. Creative Director John Patroulis

How did you come up with the Halo 3 campaign concept?

Patroulis: Essentially, the core of the Halo phenomenon is a simple story about a hero—the idea being that the hero is universal and resonates deep inside all of us. Master Chief came to life by our treating and honoring him exactly the way heroes have been honored throughout history.

What was the objective overall?

Patroulis: To use every medium we could to communicate the simple idea that Master Chief is a true hero to all humankind, from building monuments to creating fictional documentaries to interactive tours of the diorama to hanging plaques commemorating his exploits to fictional symphonies written in his honor.

What was the biggest obstacle you encountered?

Patroulis: Getting the diorama physically made was one of the biggest challenges. We all felt that making the actual, physical object was the key to creating the Master Chief story—the very core of the campaign. This was something people could see, feel, interact with, and, obviously, film for broadcast and the website. We also faced the challenge that makes any global campaign a bit tricky: implementing and executing this idea all over the world, in different cultures, in ways that brought the idea to life with as much dimension as possible.

How did you overcome those challenges?

Patroulis: We were lucky, a lot of people got excited about the idea and helped us connive and scheme and figure out ways to actually make it happen. We wouldn't have been able to make that diorama without Rupert Sanders and the team at Stan Winston and New Deal Studios going above and beyond. And Simon McQuoid killing himself on some of the fictional veterans films for the website. And as far as keeping it relevant and tight globally, we had partners all over the world helping us grow the idea and execute it in new and different ways—from heroic murals to Master Chief in Canada to fictional war photo exhibits in Europe, and more. In the end, we found that we had an idea a lot of incredibly talented people were willing to get behind—and work their asses off for.

What was the challenge of doing this kind of work in the gaming sector?

Patroulis: The big one is always about getting outside of the perceived ideas of what video games are, who the people are that are playing them, etc."Hard driving music! Lots of explosions!"—that kind of thing. There are some conventions in the category that feel a bit outdated—that you need to show footage, that only hardcore gamers can identify with certain titles. Happily, Xbox understands that staying in those conventions will never get you anywhere.

What was the most significant risk?

Patroulis: The goal was to make this the biggest title launch in Xbox history. And we went about it by executing a global campaign that used absolutely no game footage, starred either plastic figures or old men in its films, used classical music as its soundtrack, and almost never showed Master Chief, the hero character the game was based on. Also, from what we were told, no one had ever made a diorama that size and tried to film it before. So, yeah, there were a couple of risks. But that's what made it fun.

What was Microsoft's contribution to the work?

Patroulis: A willingness to take that risk. That's a big one. The vision from the very beginning about what it could become. Oh, and faith. There were a few times there when their faith in us, and what we were doing, came in handy. They definitely took the leap with us on this. They really bought into the idea, and called out anything that stepped outside of the simple premise of Master Chief being a hero to mankind. And as I said before, their vision, their ability to see what this thing could be and allow us to go after it was a big reason it turned out the way it did.

What role does creativity play today when it comes to building a brand?

Patroulis: It's everything. And it's the only thing. With so many entertainment options now, if you're not giving people something beautiful or thought-provoking or funny or inspiring you will not be seen or heard or felt. That's true from how and where you deliver the message to the content of the message itself. Creativity is the only thing you've got if you want to reach anyone and have them be happy you did.

Check out more of the 2008 Creativity Award winners.
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