Activision Blizzard has been rocking it of late—worldwide revenue surged 25% in 2020 to $8.1 billion, as it benefited from pandemic lock-downs. But what the gaming giant has lacked is a marketing rock star as it tries to keep that momentum going and gain an edge in the highly competitive industry as people emerge from quarantine.
There is no doubt the company has one now, with the hiring of Fernando Machado, the former fast-food marketer so revered that he has achieved one-name status: “Fer,” the nickname by which he is universally known inside marketing circles. Machado officially joined Activision Blizzard as chief marketing officer this week, after making a name for himself overseeing dozens of buzzy ad campaigns and stunts for Burger King parent Restaurant Brands International, where he served as CMO.
“A lot of what ‘Fer’ does is ‘hackvertising,’ hacking into popular culture in general,” says Marcelo Pascoa, VP of marketing at Molson Coors, who up until last year worked with Machado at Burger King.
Moving from a world of burgers and fries to game titles and livestreams, Machado will be called on to inject that same creative energy into Activision Blizzard, as it looks to level-up its marketing to build consumer loyalty beyond short-term product launches for its titles such as “Call of Duty” and “Overwatch.”
“Activision Blizzard was going down the tried-and-true, but they have reached a stage where they’re looking to be a little more splashier, a little more in-your-face, and Machado is perfect for that,” says one person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Jeff Pabst, chief revenue officer at esports organization FazeClan—which has worked with Burger King to promote the Impossible Whopper—says Activision Blizzard’s hiring of “rockstar CMO” Machado is another reflection of gaming’s emergence into mainstream pop culture and believes more gaming companies will follow suit in order to keep pace with today’s “always on” mentality. Historically, game publishers have marketed their titles similar to the movie industry with big pushes around tight release windows, he says, but that strategy has shifted with frequent game updates and the livestream market.
“The arrival of highly recognized executive talent like Fernando is only going to push the games business forward,” says Pabst. “The games publishers have marketed their titles rather conservatively to date and I foresee we will see more creative risks tapping into key cultural moments and a different way of reaching the growing gaming audience.”
But building buzz for value meals is not the same as making waves in a gaming industry that is becoming more competitive by the minute. And all eyes will be on how Machado goes about it, including what kind of agency shakeups are in store and what former colleagues he might lure to his new corporate home in Santa Monica, California, where Activision Blizzard is based.
His “hackvertising” approach will represent new marketing territory in the gaming industry, where advertising has mostly been mostly centered on promoting individual titles over publisher brands.