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.
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