Just days after the launch of "Deadpool 2" in May, star Ryan Reynolds was onto his next gig--a shoot for mobile game "Toon Blast." The result of the two-day production was 30 online spots, directed by Tom Kuntz of MJZ, the comedic talent behind Old Spice's "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like."
In the videos, a characteristically snarky Reynolds is immersed in playing the game while oblivious to the world around him--whether he's being asked to get on set (he insists that an unlikely body double should be used instead), acting in a love scene, opening up about his problems, or spending time in his dressing room.
The campaign from TBWA/Chiat/Day L.A. for "Toon Blast"--which debuted this week--is a twist on the brand's usual strategies, says Omer Inonu, director of strategy for Peak Games, which produces a variety of titles. Until now, Peak's marketing had been solely performance marketing, so the company's betting that pairing that with a huge celebrity will ultimately pay off. "With gameplay videos we can reach thousands of users per day, but there's a limit," he says. "The Facebook algorithm shuts you off at some point, so we had to start something new."
Each film anchors what Inonu calls individual "campaigns" targeted toward a specific demographic.
"Our game is a mass-audience game, for men, women, different ages," says Inonu. The goal was to find "the right match between audience and video." Inonu says one ad depicting Reynolds shushing a little girl, for example, targets men and women in suburban areas, while a spot featuring Reynolds nonchalantly getting shot in the chest will be tested first on a male demo.
The idea was to have a "very modular branded acquisition campaign that has the characters of Ryan and the game throughout," adds TBWA/Chiat/Day L.A. Chief Innovation Officer John Deschner.
Although Inonu wouldn't disclose exact figures, he says the marketing spend is in the "tens of millions of dollars."
They chose Kuntz, he says, for his comedy chops. The director has also worked with numerous celebrities, including Liam Neeson on the surprise 2015 "Clash of Clans" Super Bowl spot for mobile game company SuperCell.
But it was the Old Spice campaign that caught Istanbul-based Peak Games' interest. "We love his talent in creating weird situations, the fast-paced camera movement and the punchlines," says Inonu. "We wanted that kind of dry and witty humor."
Deschner says the agency looked at 50 to 60 different ideas for scripts, which Reynolds helped shape: "Ryan made himself available, referred us to his tweets [so we could better understand his voice] and gave great feedback."
"He was good for the creative because essentially, he had great instincts and the final say so we could push the best ideas forward," says director Kuntz.
Working with celebrities seems to be a positive for mobile gaming brands that can afford them, says Tom Wijman, a consultant for gaming and mobile marketing intelligence company NewZoo. Kate Upton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, he points out, have helped propel titles like MZ's "Game of War" and "Mobile Strike," respectively. According to the L.A. Times, following a campaign with Upton, "Game of War" in-app purchases doubled over a six-month period from launch (it was shown across male-focused programs like NFL, March Madness and "South Park").
"Like Peak Games, MZ had a major marketing budget, which involved hiring celebrities for marketing campaigns but also included TV ads and large budget for video placement on sites such as Twitch and YouTube," Wijman says. "In the case of MZ, those two games were on top of the grossing charts for multiple years and the company benefited from it. Based on that one example, there is a lot to gain by adding celebrities to a game's marketing campaign. On the other hand, it's an investment other mobile game publishers often do not, or cannot afford to, make, nor can celebrity endorsement be a substitute for engaging game play, so Peak Games is taking a risk."
According to a recent study from NewZoo, mobile gaming is the largest sector of the gaming market with 51 percent market share, and could be a $100 billion industry by 2021.
Peak Games' main titles, "Toy Blast" and "Toon Blast," rank in the top 10 or 20 grossing apps in the U.S., one of its key markets. Last fall, Peak sold its mobile card and board game studio to Zynga for $100 million, which means the company can focus on its "Match-3" puzzle games, like the "Blast" titles.