IDEA: What happens here, stays here … particularly if the city crumbles to the ground.
72andSunny travels to a bombed-out Las Vegas for its latest jaw-dropping, live-action trailer, breaking Nov. 2, for Activision's Call of Duty. This spot, for Ghosts, the 10th game in the franchise, marks the fourth year of the theme "There's a soldier in all of us." The ads have been creatively stellar for years—from TBWA's 2010 Black Ops spot with Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel through 72's trailers for Modern Warfare 3, with Jonah Hill and Sam Worthington, and Black Ops II, with Robert Downey Jr. They've also been enormously effective, winning 2013's Grand Effie and Adweek's Brand Genius award for Activision CMO Tim Ellis.
The new spot, "Epic Night Out," follows the same general creative path as the earlier spot—unexpected celebrity cameo, potent music, flashy action that mimics the emotion of playing the game—but brings new insights, new toys and a new tone supplied largely by a Frank Sinatra soundtrack.
"Each year we want to shock and awe our audience and the world," said Ellis. "And we feel like this is the best work we've ever done."
COPYWRITING: Squads play a key role in Ghosts, emphasizing teamwork. So, the script for the spot quickly became about camaraderie.
Early on, the creatives stumbled upon the Sinatra track "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die," which put them in a Rat Pack mood. Part of the game is set in Vegas as well. So those two things "almost led us to the storyline," said 72andSunny chief creative officer Glenn Cole. "It will be a night out in Vegas, you and your buddies having a great time. Crazy shit happens, and you wake up the next day and go, 'Holy hell, that was the best night of the year. Let's do that again!' Which is just like playing Call of Duty with your friends."
Indeed, in the spot, four friends race around Sin City, battling snipers, tanks and choppers before finding themselves in other parts of the world and beyond. (They're briefly transported to the Arctic and to outer space, among other locales.) At one point, on a Caracas rooftop, they run into Megan Fox. "How you doing?" one of the guys asks, acting cool. She pushes him aside and blasts a hovering robot out of the sky. "Great. Thanks for asking," she replies. (That's almost the sum total of dialogue.)
The Hangover was clearly a reference point. Said Cole: "The story arc of ending up at [Mike] Tyson's house at 5 in the morning and some crazy shit's going on—our equivalent of that in the spot is, 'Wow, are we in space having a gunfight? Awesome!' "
The scripting of individual scenes involved "a matrix of things," he added. They had locations in mind that would capture the scale and scope of the game. They had specific vehicles and guns they wanted to highlight. "And then, we were looking to build personality moments and connections between our guys," said Cole.
At the end, the four guys walk triumphantly in front of fountains at a scarred casino as the tagline appears: "There's a soldier in all of us."
FILMING/TALENT: Director James Mangold shot the spot over seven days, re-creating Vegas on the Warner Bros. lot and filming the Arctic scenes at an airport in Burbank, Calif., and the space footage on a blue screen.
For the friends, the agency looked for a mix of ethnicities and types—alpha male, prankster, etc. "We thought about the pros and cons of having four guys you know, or four guys you don't know," said Cole. "I think an important question with these [ads] is: At what point might a famous personality overshadow the story we're trying to tell, or the connection we're trying to make? This year it's four guys you probably haven't seen, even though they've had roles in Hollywood."
Fox's scene is all of 10 seconds long, but she's the first woman to be the lead celebrity in a Call of Duty spot. "She's fun, she's sexy, she's cool, she's badass, she's recognizable around the world. And the role was fun," said Cole.
"Video gaming isn't just about dudes today," said Ellis, adding that he generally looks for "unpredictable" stars who don't do a lot of ads.
SOUND: The Sinatra song has "a fun, swaggery, Ocean's Eleven feeling," said Cole. It's lyrically perfect, yet more stylish and less aggressive than past COD soundtracks with AC/DC and the Rolling Stones. "Let's face it, Frank is cool. He's timeless," said Ellis. Sound design was crucial, too, to make the earth shake and the guns blaze.
MEDIA: The spot breaks as a :90 this weekend on Saturday Night Live and will also run as a :60. Other Ghosts ads this year have included a teaser trailer, an Eminem music video and, for the first time, a minicampaign called "Call of Duty Time" celebrating consumer excitement around the launch.
"Even people who will never buy our game, I want them talking about our advertising and our product," said Ellis. "That is the way you build a cultural juggernaut that sustains itself year after year."
Client: Activision Publishing
Product: Call of Duty: Ghosts
Spot: "Epic Night Out"
CEO: Eric Hirshberg
EVP, Chief Marketing Officer: Tim Ellis
SVP, Consumer Marketing: Todd Harvey
Sr. Director, Consumer Marketing: Matt Small
Director, Consumer Marketing: Carolyn Wang
Consumer Marketing Manager: Karen Starr
Associate Consumer Marketing Manager: Andrew Drake
Chief Creative Officer: Glenn Cole
Executive Creative Director: Frank Hahn
Creative Director, Writer: Josh Fell
Creative Director, Designer: Rey Andrade
Lead Writer: Jed Cohen
Lead Designer: Jeremy Wirth
Writer: Matt Spicer
Designer: Will Lindberg
Chief Production Officer: Tom Dunlap
Director of Film Production: Sam Baerwald
Executive Producer: Dan Ruth
Senior Producer: Eric Rasco
Director of Business Affairs: Christine Claussen
Business Affairs manager: Jennifer Jahinian
Group Brand Director: Mike Parseghian
Brand Director: Luke Lamson
Brand Manager: John Moloney
Brand Coordinator: Justin Gonzaga
Production Company: Aero Film
Director: James Mangold
DP: Kramer Morgenthau
Executive Producer: Lance O'Connor
Line Producer: Mary Church
Editorial: Union Editorial
Editor: Jono Griffith
Jr. Editor: Jason Lucas
Executive Producer/President: Michael Raimondi
Senior Producer: Joe Ross
Visual Effects: The Mill Los Angeles
Exec Producer: Sue Troyan
Producer: Leighton Greer
Coordinator: Antonio Hardy
Creative Director: Robert Sethi
2D Lead Artists: Chris Knight / Daniel Thuresson
3D Lead Artists: Felix Urquiza – Assets / Chris Bayol – Lighting / Jacob Bergman – Animation / Ashraf Ghoniem – FX / Thom Price – Matte Painting
Colorist: Adam Scott
Production Designer: Todd Cherniawsky
Mix: Lime Audio post
Mixer: Rohan Young
Assistant: Jeff Malen
Sound Design: The Formosa Group
Supervising Sound Designer: Per Hallberg