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Strategy: Anatomy Of An Onslaught: How Halo 3 Attacked

Ten months in the making, Halo 3 went gold weeks before launch.
September 10, 2007
By Kenneth Hein

This week, Microsoft breaks its Halo 3 "Believe" TV ad campaign touting the Xbox 360 title's highly-anticipated Sept. 25 launch. The estimated $10 million-plus effort centers on an immaculately constructed diorama depicting the great battles of lead character Master Chief. With this as a backdrop, warriors that did battle with the game's hero provide testimonials as to his greatness in the ads created by McCann-Erickson, San Francisco.

The goal of the campaign is to bring Halo fans and nonfans up-to-speed as to where we are in Master Chief's epic battle to defeat the evil Covenant. While most major game titles begin their ad campaigns weeks before launch to build buzz, Halo 3 differs greatly. This mass-market push is actually the end of the of Halo 3 campaign.

The TV push is the grand finale of a five-pronged attack Microsoft quietly launched last December. The carefully orchestrated onslaught was designed to make casual fans interested and core fans rabid as Microsoft aims to eclipse Halo 2's record-breaking $125 million in sales on day one. To date, Halo 3 is already on the books for one million preorders and counting.

"We're well ahead of where we were with Halo 2," said Chris Di Cesare, director of creative marketing at Microsoft, Redmond, Wash. "In the year of the summer blockbuster 'three-quel,' the biggest one is going to be one you don't go to a theater to see."

Despite the fact that 11 million people already purchased one or both of the first two installments, such an effort is necessary to put the launch over the top, said Jason Anderson, director of research at the International Development Group, a videogame-consultancy in San Francisco. "While Halo 3 may have some of the strongest title awareness of any videogame since Grand Theft Auto 3, that awareness isn't free. Part of what sustains that critical mass is the perception that Halo 3 is a big budget, mass media event."

This final phase may likely do the trick, but to get a better understanding of how complex this game's launch is, here's a brief synopsis of some of the facets of its five-phase marketing blitz:

Phase 1: Starry Nights. During Monday Night Football last Dec. 4, Microsoft hit

7.9 million households (and 1.8 million of its target 18-34 audience) with an eerie spot featuring Master Chief grabbing his helmet and jumping into the fray. Tag: "Finish the fight." It has since been viewed on YouTube more than 3 million times.

Phase 2: The Beta. In May, fans could enter to win a chance to try a multiplayer beta version at Halo3.com. A third of a million people entered. Additionally, anyone who purchased the title Crackdown could play the beta. Before the beta expired on June 10, 820,000 participants spent more than 12 million hours of playing online. Using its saved films feature, where you can capture snippets of gameplay and download it, more than 350 terabytes of Halo 3 data was downloaded from Xbox Live (which is the equivalent of 82 million music downloads).

Phase 3: Project Iris. This five-part viral effort harkens back to Halo 2's cryptic "Ilovebees" effort. Beginning with a fake ad planted in Best Buy circulars, "Halo nation" sought out clues via an online/offline scavenger hunt to unlock new information about Halo 3 and its back-story.

Phase 4: Promotional Partner Activity. Much like movie franchises look to secure key category partners, so did Halo 3. It locked up Pontiac, which committed

$5 million in media to the game's launch, and Mountain Dew which has been heavily promoting its Halo 3-themed Game Fuel flavor on TV, plus Burger King, Game Stop,7-Eleven, Samsung and Comcast. It is even sponsoring Linkin Park's current tour.

Phase 5: Believe. Microsoft began re-running Starry Nights last month leading up to the Believe campaign this week. A week-long celebration featuring the making of specials, tournaments and media frenzy typical of a Hollywood blockbuster will lead up to a midnight madness event. In the U.S. alone, 10,000 stores will open at midnight to give fans the chance to buy the product first. "This is very different from the launch of Halo 2," said Jeff Bell, vp-interactive entertainment for global marketing. "We had our secret program, Ilovebees, but we didn't have a beta, or participate at E3, we just kind of burst on the scene. This time around, we wanted to draw a broader audience. We wanted to invite everyone in."

After 10 months of marketing, everyone should have gotten the invitation by now.

khein@brandweek.com


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