Entertainment Marketers of the Year

Jeff Bell, Gears of War

By Published on .

In the first installment of the "Gears of War" game trilogy for Xbox 360, soldier Marcus Fenix is the hero in a desperate struggle against the alien Locust Horde bent on destroying all humanity.
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Created story advertising for the big screen and built launch hype around Emergence Day event.

The depth of the game's story inspired Jeff Bell, corporate VP-global marketing, Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business, to depart from traditional video-game marketing around the game's launch last November. Instead of the typical shooter footage plucked from the game and set to high-octane music, Mr. Bell, his team and agency McCann Erickson created originally scripted ads for cinema and TV.

The mini-drama, employing the game's realistic animation, features Fenix racing down decimated city streets in the rain, running from unseen enemies (until the last frames), and is punctuated by a haunting soundtrack, "Mad World" sung by Gary Jules. The innovative ad was praised by both gamers -- who created dozens of mash-ups of the ad -- and industry critics, and helped vault Mr. Jules to the top of the iTunes charts.

Urban ingenuity
The media plan pushed creativity as well. Taking into account the game's story line of the evil Locusts coming up from inside the planet, the team created a plan that included "Gears of War" stencils on manhole covers and sounds to be played underground in subways.

The launch campaign was preceded by a well-watched effort known as Emergence Day. It began at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May 2006, with artist Kurt Wenner, known for his street paintings and chalk murals, grabbing attention as he drew a massive "Gears of War" illustration on the floor inside the main hall. Online promotions, e-mails and games (such as a "how and when you died" calculator) led up to a 24-hour promo fest and an MTV special.

"Gears of War" sold more than 1 million copies in the U.S. in six weeks, making it the fastest-selling next-generation title of 2006 and the fastest-selling exclusive Xbox 360 game ever, according to Microsoft. It has sold almost 5 million copies worldwide, and 500,000 people play online at Xbox Live daily. "It definitely drove console sales," Mr. Bell says. "'Gears of War' was a premium bundle (with the Xbox 360 console) in Europe, and it drove our market share up from 20% to 40%." Data "indicated the two were being purchased together," he said.

Mr. Bell and his "Gears of War" team are far from done. A recent "Gears of War" hook-up with Discovery Channel to promote its "Future Weapons" TV show (about real, futuristic weapons) gave gamers free $5 or $10 virtual weapons that can be used in the video game courtesy of Discovery.

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