Activision Readies Blitz for 'Call of Duty: Black Ops'

Live-Action Spot From TBWA Features Kobe Bryant, Jimmy Kimmel in War Zone

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NEW YORK ( -- Let the blitz begin.

"Call of Duty: Black Ops" hits retailers Nov. 9, and while it's a given gamers will queue up to secure their copy of the seventh iteration in the wildly popular "Call of Duty" franchise, marketer Activision Blizzard doesn't want to bank on the buzz already out there. So it's gearing up to break a giant marketing push this weekend that targets hardcore fans and novice players alike.

Dubbed "There Is a Soldier in All of Us," the new 60-second TV spot from Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, doesn't use any footage of actual game-play. Instead, it stars people representing different walks of life -- a businesswoman, a hotel concierge, a Best Buy worker, a fast-food employee and two celebrities, NBA star Kobe Bryant and talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel -- all shooting real guns to music of the Rolling Stones.

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"It's a dramatization of what it's like to play the game," said TBWA Chief Creative Officer Rob Schwartz of the spot, which was shot in a California desert and directed by Rupert Sanders, who has been behind the camera for Activision before and has also done commercials for "Halo 3," XBox, Nike and Adidas. Though the weapons don't fire real rounds, the grenade launchers and 45-caliber handguns wielded by the people in the commercial are real and true to the ones used in the game.

Each of the actors in the spot is also a gamer in real life, including the celebrities. "Kobe Bryant is a huge 'Call of Duty' gamer, and Jimmy Kimmel has been introduced to the franchise by his son, I believe, who is also a 'Call of Duty' enthusiast," said Brad Jakeman, exec VP-chief marketing officer and chief creative officer of Activision Publishing. In the spot, Mr. Bryant smiles while shooting a round, while Mr. Kimmel struggles to shoot a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, meant to convey his newness to the hobby.

Asked whether he was worried about backlash from the use of real weapons, Mr. Jakeman said: "We are very proud of the work we've done and continue to do to educate parents around the rating systems of video games. This game is rated M, for people 17 years and over ... we are careful to run the advertising in programming that is not set out to target people under the age of 17." He added that the "playful tone" of the commercial with "Jimmy Kimmel ineptly firing a gun in a mock war zone" sufficiently conveys hyperbole for consumers.

The ad breaks this Sunday during NFL broadcasts, after which it will air largely during live sports, prime-time and late-night shows. In addition to the TV work, a digital campaign breaks next week, including home-page takeovers and digital billboards also by TBWA. WPP-owned MEC was responsible for the media planning and buying program for the campaign, which Mr. Jakeman said includes a a "heavy search, digital and social-media buy driving our communities to to learn more about the game and see all the assets, and participate in discussion forums."

There will also be in-store marketing efforts rolled out at the thousands of retailers around the country doing midnight openings for the game. Walmart is supporting the launch right now with a TV campaign that pushes "Black Ops," and other co-marketers including Microsoft XBox and Chrysler are heavily contributing to the launch. In what's sure to be a costly tie-in, Chrysler is producing a special "Call of Duty: Black Ops" edition Jeep Wrangler, which the automaker started to advertise this week.

Mr. Jakeman declined to put a number on how much the company is spending to market "Black Ops." But some back-of-the-envelope math indicates it's sizable. Activision in general is said to devote about 10% of its net revenue on a game title in marketing, making it easy to imagine that the budget for "Black Ops" was at least $100 million.

"We know it's going to be the biggest launch in Activision's history," said Mr. Jakeman. "What we're witnessing is an explosion into pop culture. Last year 'Call of Duty' enjoyed the largest launch in entertainment history, and that's from any form of entertainment media. It had $400 million in sales in the first 24 hours, and last year's title alone amassed over $1 billion in revenue."

There's been a steady buildup to this weekend's official launch of the "Black Ops" ad campaign, starting with a website unveiled in April, followed by a series of first-person and multi-player game-play trailers by Ant Farm that aired during NBA and NFL broadcasts in recent months to showcase features of the game. (Ant Farm and TBWA were among the bevy of shops involved with last year's "Modern Warfare 2" release.)

"If there's one thing we know about marketing in this category, it's the importance of driving buzz and consumer engagement very early," Mr. Jakeman said.

The launch is also an initiation for Eric Hirshberg, who recently made the leap from co-CEO and chief creative officer of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, to CEO of Activision Publishing. He officially started the role in early September, but still had some time to get involved. Said Mr. Jakeman: "Eric is a gamer and inherently a strategic and creative person, so it's been fantastic having him involved in this launch and we were very lucky he started when he did so could participate in the launch."

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