It wasn’t much of a surprise that Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops raked in $360 million in the first 24 hours of sales. A built-in core of gamers had been madly anticipating the drop, including a crew who held up a GameStop and demanded the entire stock.
So, it’s not like the game needed any more advance buzz. Why even advertise?
Apparently, the agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day, was one step ahead of the question, because this launch spot was shocking enough to stop your stereotypical gun-hating, war-hating mom type in her tracks (or at least, on her couch). And that’s because it’s a damn near perfect 60 seconds that even made me laugh.
For starters, the spot, directed by Rupert Sanders, is just a gorgeous piece of film. Backed by the Rolling Stones track “Gimme Shelter,” the whole feeling is engaging and smart, a sort of EZ-watching version of Apocalypse Now.
Certainly, it has a head-spinner of a mission: Take the dark and violent multiplayer shooter-game experience and re-create it in the California desert with real people firing real weapons in real time. You’d think bringing it into the real world would make it more gruesome. Instead, somehow it’s the kind of heart-stoppingly rich, immersive entertainment that appeals not only to serious gamers (who can enjoy all sorts of insidery details in the production) but to newbies who sense something is going on and want to know what it is.
In that respect, the spot deftly recognizes, and heralds, a new gaming moment in the culture. With its private lexicon and weird esprit de corps of people with tags like “xxxdevilboy” and “WisconsinCheese,” group gaming is coming out of the closet (or up from the basement) and crossing into mass media as a whole new kind of art/entertainment form.
It reminds me of 20 years ago in advertising, when Calvin Klein stirred things up with the orgies of gorgeous young models in his print ads. Some limbs couldn’t quite be accounted for; as a viewer, you didn’t quite get it, but you sensed you were missing something.
Now, underwear and fragrance ads that use sex and nudity are a big yawn. By contrast, Call of Duty: Black Ops has attracted tons of critics and offended all kinds of people, for everything from its 3-D zombies to its vague, Cold War story setting, which includes an attempt to kill Fidel Castro.
Age is also an issue — the game is rated Mature, and the agency has had to defend the ad, saying everyone in it is over 18. The issue of whether the game glorifies war, or desensitizes young minds, is also a very real one.
But let’s leave the violence-as-porn issue aside for now and instead bask in the glory that is the plus-size shooter girl in the puffy-shouldered, half-sleeved purple shirt. We can debate whether it represents feminist progress that four women are seen shooting weapons in the spot. It is, sort of. The casting is brilliant in showing the easy diversity of everyday people in their everyday outfits (a concierge, a pizza guy, a doctor, etc.) who are all crucial to the game, and gender has nothing to do with it.
For once, women are part of the action, and they don’t have to look like Angelina Jolie (although the black woman in black heels and gray suit sure qualifies).
Indeed, the gal with the glasses, who is maybe a size 16, has already received the same kind of attention online as the ad’s two (wildly diverse) celebrities: NBA star Kobe Bryant, whose weapon bears the tag “Mamba,” and talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, who is Kobe’s opposite. He falls over while shooting, representing the rest of us, and his gun reads, “Proud Noob,” which is what made me laugh. This one ad will probably do more for Kimmel’s Q rating than a year of late-night shows.
There’s also a Patty-Hearst-as-Tania type in a long skirt, Birkenstocks and knit cap, and another woman in jeans. The chunky girl ends up kicking down a door and gets a huge grin on her face. Since when is an overweight woman portrayed as a player, alongside everyone else, rather than as a butt of a joke?
The one thing I don’t like is the tagline, which is also the ad’s title: “There’s a soldier in all of us.” I think it trivializes the sacrifices that actual soldiers make. The ad is more about honoring your inner badass.
It would probably help us all as a country if we got this stuff out of our systems this way as a group. Game on.
See also: “Q&A – Activision CCO Brad Jakeman”