2008 Creative Marketers: Microsoft Xbox

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left to right: Taylor Smith and Eli Friedman
left to right: Taylor Smith and Eli Friedman
Microsoft/Xbox's heroic campaign for the much anticipated launch of Halo 3 was the a bona fide interactive/film/integrated media blockbuster. The McCann- and T.A.G.-created effort swept the awards fetes with best of show honors at the One Show, Clios and Cannes to make Microsoft this year's most-awarded advertiser, according to our 2008 Awards Report. Riding this wave of communications success, Xbox marketers Eli Friedman and Taylor Smith can now refocus their priorities on revealing a new product experience that actually delivers on an old promise: Xbox as the entertainment axis of the living room, and all at a price point that, for the first time, is even less exclusive than the market leader Nintendo Wii.

Announced at E3 this year, the Xbox Live's redesigned interface, launching this fall, will be cleaner and more intuitive. Through a partnership with Netflix, users will be able to view their queues and watch high-definition movies on Xbox. The system's internet-based community and media store, Xbox Live, will also house a new casual gaming channel, Primetime, which dips into non-gamer genres like trivia and game shows. One of the first games released will be a trivia battle called 1 vs. 100, a game show-like experience created by the producer of Deal or No Deal. For social and game networking, there will even be Mii-like avatars.

"It's really about trying to bring our brand idea to life in all the things we do, both in the product experience and in marketing and communications," says Friedman, director of global brand marketing. "It's a lot of what we set out to do when we launched Xbox 360—a platform that's more social and more inclusive. Xbox version one was about power and that's something we brought in as a competitive advantage. But with Xbox 360 we need to bring in a broader group of people. It's about sales and numbers, but it's also about being the kind of brand we want to be. This is an invitation to all kinds of people. With where the platform, from a product perspective, is going, we now can say that in a much truer way."

A lower price certainly doesn't hurt the democratization plan. The cost of the basic 360, Arcade, was cut in September to $199, $50 less than Wii. Now, Friedman and Smith's task is to take lessons learned from the success of game-centric campaigns and apply them to capturing a wider audience through a variety of offerings in and outside the game spectrum. This means enthralling core gamers and new audiences alike with more stories that, like Master Chief's Halo 3 "Believe" epic, look more like content than advertising, and that travel seamlessly across media, from TV to PR.

But expect the Xbox team to change things up accordingly. "There's all sorts of content out there that appeals to people outside of core enthusiasts," says Smith, global marketing communications director, the lead for game initiatives like the McCann and T.A.G. Halo effort. "We're about Halo and games like Halo, but we're also about games like Lips (a singing game), Netflix, viewing high-definition video through Xbox Live, as well as more casual gaming experiences that are trivia-based or social games. Halo was a great success, but we don't want that alone to define what we're about."

Read about Virgin America, another of our 2008 Creative Marketers.
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