Michael Phelps and Danny McBride Go to Outer Space for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Fleeing Earth, into the otherworldly CoD universe

With global temperatures rising and the most obscene U.S. presidential election in recent memory taking place, 2016 might feel like the worst year ever. But whether you're an average joe on the street or celebrity swimmer Michael Phelps, Call of Duty's new game, Infinite Warfare, is ready to help you escape.

The new live-action trailer for the Activision title opens on a young man beset by dire news reports. Beside himself, he does the only reasonably thing. He hops in a spaceship and takes off from Earth altogether.

"2016 has been a year full of shock and head shaking," says Matthew Curry, group creative director at 72andSunny, which created the ad. "As we got further into the year, the idea that you could leave the insanity behind to go have some badass fun felt like rich territory. So we came up with the ultimate solution to a world gone mad: Screw it! Let's go to space."

Cue blastoff to a high-octane interplanetary gunfight, wherein the ad fulfills its obligation as a CoD trailer to deliver a explosion-packed, celebrity-studded fantasy blending live action and computer graphics, ultimately featuring surprise banter between Phelps and comedian Danny McBride. (A red-band trailer, launching Friday, will feature more in that vein.) 

As usual, a driving, guitar-driven soundtrack—in this case, "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses—is key. (Past CoD ads have featured "Gimme Shelter" and "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones. Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," meanwhile, featured in a 72andSunny ad for another Activision title, Destiny).

"Classic rock has a timeless cool to it," says Curry. It fits perfectly with the badass fun and swagger of the Call of Duty brand. For this particular spot … we considered everything from end-of-the-world songs to songs about escape. In the end, 'Welcome to the Jungle' had the perfect tone and message to tee up the badass fun of battling through the chaos of space."

As for casting, diversity was the driving factor, based on emphasizing the CoD franchise's broader sales pitch—"There's a soldier in all of us." But there was some strategy in the cameos, as well. "We instantly loved the idea of taking Michael Phelps, the winningest human on Earth, and putting him in space to see how he fared," says Curry. "Danny McBride was the perfect person to steal his kill, and his thunder."

The trailer, launching today, is the culmination of a massive push to promote latest title in a hugely success franchise. Infinite Warfare, launching Nov. 4, is the first to be set in space. "The campaign for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare consisted of literally over 100 marketing elements, all highlighting what is unique and different about this title," says Todd Harvey, svp of global consumer marketing at Activision.

"With 'Screw It, Let's Go to Space,' we've focused on creating a broad message that taps into the pop culture happening around us, while transporting players into the new game world of Infinite Warfare. The launch of Call of Duty is a pop-culture moment, and in that sense, the news of the day serves as a great starting point to play on that sense of escapism to enjoy the next epic entertainment launch of the year."

Past elements in the campaign have included the ambitious "Hostile Takeover" in-game activation in the prior Black Ops 3 title. Social activations launching later this week will include #EarthWorldProblems—a Twitter response campaign from Edelman playing on the popular #FirstWorldProblems trope, and "Terminal Tours" from AKQA—a Facebook Messenger walkthrough of the dangers of playing CoD in space.

As for whether 72andSunny had a specific candidate in mind, as the one moderating punches in the face during a particularly egregious debate, Curry maintains it was "no one in particular. We wanted a line that spoke to the insanity of the election season, so we really gunned at an unbelievable moment. Problem is, things have been so crazy that no matter how hyperbolic we went, you could argue it was still believable."

In other words, strap in.