Quite often, there exists a strange lack of symbiosis between games marketers and the consumers they’re intending to ensnare. Quite often there’s a shocking ignorance to what actually makes people want to play games, let alone spend money on them. Partly, it’s because pigeon-holing gamers is as pointless an exercise as pigeon-holing, say, football fans, and attempting to cater to what your average power-suited exec believes the average gamer wants will always result in failure.
However, there’s a flipside to the coin, of course. A far rarer occurrence when marketing campaigns hit the nail on the head and genuinely captures our attention, imagination and, occasionally, awe. Because there has been such a mixed bag of good, bad and ugly campaigns over the last few years, we’ve put together a list of the most memorable marketing stunts ever.
10. Borderlands 2 – A Catalogue of Oddments
Perhaps fittingly for a franchise with such a wild-eyed reputation, Gearbox Software marketed the release of their cel-shaded, gun-centric FPS-RPG hybrid Borderlands 2 with an assortment of off-the wall stunts that got our attention and endeared them even further to an overly cynical generation of gamers.
They had 80′s-style retro de-make The Borderlands, a set of Top Trumps cards, a free minigame to win regular random prizes for chipping away at a Rushmore-style mountainside and, right before launch, a scheme to give a free copy of Borderlands 2 to whoever was bonkers enough to bungee jump off a specially branded crane in London. We’ve come a long way, baby.
9. PSP – All I Want for Christmas
This might actually be the worst thing ever created in the history of gaming. Sony didn’t exactly give the PSP a fair run at the best of times, but this “rap” is so shockingly out of touch it’s hard to work out who, or what, it was aimed at. It’s so bad we won’t even waste column space trying to explain it to you; you have to see it for yourself. Purely because we had to suffer through it for the sake of journalism, so you can suffer through it, too.
If you can watch it all the way to the end, we salute you, but be warned: Kevin Butler it is not. It’s not even the Anfield Rap, for goodness sake.
8. Dead Space 2 – Your Mom Hates It
Ok, sometimes people in marketing outright deserve to be sacked on the spot. Whoever was behind this disturbingly unfunny and frankly worrying campaign for EA and Visceral Games’ Dead Space 2 should never, ever work in advertising again. Or in any job that requires interaction with people.
These mothers didn’t hate Dead Space 2 because they are “uncool”, but because your average middle-aged mum is not desensitised to the kind if brutal, shocking violence that gamers shrug off as par for the course. It was cruel. Actually cruel. Not to mention that the game is rated 18, and so the target audience of this ad’s ridiculous message were about 6 years younger than the target audience of the game itself. It’s things like this that fuel anti-gaming campaigns, people. Let’s never do it again.
7. TERA – The MMO-FO Campaign
So watching people get beat up can occasionally be fun in a puerile way, like on Jackass or a Will Ferrel/Kevin James “movie”, but the MMO-FO (chortle) campaign for massively multiplayer RPG Tera is so wide of the mark it’s actually bizarre.
Basically, a Dutch “Bad Ass” named Bas Rutten smashes through people’s walls to kick the crap out of them for obeying “old-hat” MMO conventions or for being annoying dickish executives. Undoubtedly chucklesome at times, but absolutely nothing to do with TERA’s actual content. The Mr T World of Warcraft ad was better.
6. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 – Free Tattoo
Yup, a tattoo. A permanent piece of body art that will stay with you for your entire life (laser surgery or unexpected limb loss notwithstanding), and that should always mean something; even if it just means that you’re a bad ass or you really love your mum. Or both.
But Namco Bandai decided that it would be a good idea to team up with London based studio Frith St. Tattoo to give a free voucher worth £300 to the first five fans who arrived at the Soho studio with a copy of Tekken Tag Tournament 2, stipulating that it had to be redeemed against a Tekken-based tattoo. Bas Rutten probably would have loved it.
5. Dante’s Inferno – Acts of Lust
EA and Visceral again, this time on a mission to piss off as many pro-Christian groups as possible. Before we even get to the “Go to Hell” TV spot broadcast during the Superbowl, there was the questionable marketing decision to dress people up as religious protesters outside 2009′s E3. Admittedly “EA = Electronic Anti-Christ” is a doozy.
As if that wasn’t enough, they then actively encouraged people to harass booth babes at the San Diego Comic Con and commit “acts of lust” in order to win a “sinful evening” with two girls and a limo. Obviously, it was never intended to be taken seriously and the whole campaign was built from the ground up to generate interest – which it did – but at the same time you have to wonder where the line is drawn on decency.
4. Xbox – Cradle to the Grave
Some adverts you just can’t get out of your head. They stick with you, fuelling your imagination, invading your dreams with their surreal imagery, pricking at your consciousness for days after with their originality.
No, I’m not talking about those Meerkat ads. I’m talking about this excellent promo for the Xbox depicting a baby launched canonball-like from the womb and going through its entire life in one high-speed flight. Incredibly imaginative and highly effective.
3. Halo: Reach – Deliver Hope
Video game trailers are often created as completely separate entities to the titles they’re ostensibly advertising (just look at the emotionally-affecting Dead Island trailer compared to the actually very silly game), but one franchise whose themes have always gone hand-in-hand with its advertising is Bungie’s (and now 343 Industries’) Halo.
From TV spots showing the Master Chief facing off against a whole bunch of black Elites with nothing but a sticky grenade to Halo 3′s incredibly authentic documentary style short films, Halo’s marketers have always delivered, but this beautifully made, heroically stirring trailer for Halo: Reach is our favourite. The music is gorgeous, the animation sublime and the story contained within is as Noble as it needed to be. Believe…
2. Shadowman 2 – Grave Error
Mis-jusdging an audience is one thing, making a bad call over which celebrity should endorse your game is another, but some marketing decisions are just in bad taste, plain and simple. Such was now-defunct (but once huge) publisher Acclaim’s attempt to advertise 2002′s admittedly very creepy adventure Shadowman 2 on people’s actual tombstones.
Yes, the game is primarily about Voodoo and, as such, has an inherent connection to death and the afterlife, but come on, folks, gravestones are to mark the final resting place of the departed, not hock the wares of a huge multinational company that wants to “take advertising to the next level.” Acclaim even went so far as to issue the classy statement that “poor families might be especially interested.” Oh dear.
1. Turok – Name Your Child Turok
This stunt actually echoed through the last decade and found its way into the collective caffeine, and happy thought-fuelled minds, of Bethesda’s marketing monkeys who offered prizes for naming your child Dovahkiin, but it actually originated with – you guessed it – Acclaim.
This time they offered $10,000 dollars to anyone who would name their child Turok in honour of Turok: Evolution, their “biggest game” at the time. The reason I’ve slid this one into the top spot is its ludicrous audacity. The only hair-brained idea that could possibly top the suggestion that someone brand their gravestone with your game’s title as they float off into the sweet hereafter is the suggestion that they name their child after it. Their actual child, who has to go to school with that name, get married (somehow) with that name…
Yes, maybe the Dante’s Inferno campaign had more thought go into it, the Halo: Reach adverts were emotionally affecting and the PSP rap, oh God, the PSP rap… But still, for me, the most memorable campaign and the one that comes to mind whenever the patchwork subject of video game marketing comes up will always be this one. Naming your actual child after an actual game; not to mention one that turned out to be actual shite.
With marketing angles like that, how on Earth did Acclaim ever go bankrupt?
The Vault at GodisaGeek.com is the opinion of only one of our writers. There may be advertising campaigns you found far more memorable or noteworthy than the ones mentioned here. If there are any you feel really should have been included, please use the comments box below to let us know.