Commentary by Jonah Bloom

Wieden's Sega Work a Model for Marketing Beyond the :30

A Four Month Campaign of Fascinating, Improvised, Interactive Theater

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Last week Advertising Age reported Sega and its agency, Wieden & Kennedy, New York, parted company, most likely because Wieden's Portland, Ore., office has a chance to swim
Jonah Bloom, executive editor of Advertising Age.
with a bigger fish in the gaming bowl. This may seem a parochial piece of news but it marks the end of an alliance that yielded one of the most daring and creative campaigns of the last 12 months.

A case worth studying
If you're not a gamer, Wieden's Sega ESPN NFL Football campaign might have escaped your attention. And -- despite being a far more trendsetting piece of marketing than most 30-second spots -- it will go unrecognized when it comes to handing out this year's ego-assuaging ad gongs. But for marketers looking to engage consumers, rather than batter them with yawn-inducing show-'em-what-we-got campaigns, this is a case worth studying.

Its objective, of course, was to sell the game and help Sega take a bigger share of a market dominated by Electronic Arts' Madden NFL Football series. To take on Madden, Sega wanted to stress its game's "First Person Football" feature, a unique selling point that gives the gamer the perspective of being a player on the field.

With that as their inspiration, Wieden creative dynamos Ty Montague and Todd Waterbury hatched an anti-campaign built around a guy paid to beta-test the game. He becomes so wrapped up in this virtual-football-reality that he developed side effects such

One of Wieden & Kennedy's spots for Sega ESPN NFL Football.
as blackouts, during which he'd unwittingly tackle random people.

An actor was cast to play the role of "Beta-7," the ailing gamer, as Wieden, aided by The Haxans (Blair Witch Project directors and masters of Internet marketing), hooked in the gaming community. Postings from the gamer were placed on game site message boards and a blog,, was created for him on which the tale of his efforts to uncover "the truth" was unraveled.

Beginning with the first postings on the site last July, plot devices included: sending copies of the game to nine gamers, who then received a letter from Sega insisting on the game's return; posting classified newspaper ads seeking others who had tested the game; adapting existing TV spots to include a defensive disclaimer about game-induced violence; and shutting down Beta-7 to replace it with a new site,, ostensibly a "fan site" but clearly a thinly veiled front for Sega.

Fascinating improvised theater
The four-month campaign was fascinating improvised, interactive theater. (A short film about it is playing on iFilm and will soon be shown on game-centric cable channel G4). Even its architects admit they didn't know how it would play out, so Sega

The Beta-7 Web site was part of the improvised, interactive theater of a campaign. Mimicking conspiracy theorists' tactics, it offered authentic-looking shredded documents to prove its completely fictional point.
must be credited with steely nerve.

There are those who will say it was too deceptive (albeit the debate over whether this was some kind of hoax was a big part of the campaign itself), and certainly a strategy of this nature could only be employed where the audience is Web and marketing savvy.

Did it work? When "Gamerchuck" posted some game snippets on his site, they were downloaded more than 4 million times, and sales of the game climbed year-on-year despite Sega having to delay the game's release until after Madden NFL 2004 was already on shelves.

Amusingly, Beta-7 himself still insists that the idea this was a marketing campaign is just a cover up by Sega. Confusing? Perhaps. Engaging? Definitely.

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