Last year, Droga5 launched an online trailer for a campaign created for Fiveight, the local distributor of Turtle Beach, a manufacturer of high-end headsets and gaming gear. The clip showed an avid—and fairly cocky—Kiwi gamer who had agreed to head to Iraq to see what a real warzone was like and a fair bit of controversy erupted after its launch, which meant most didn't get a chance to see it reach its denouement. But the full version is out there—although now under the Fiveight name—and there's an interesting twist to the tale of the Kiwi gamer known as StatiC.
According to Droga5's creative director Mike O'Sullivan, the gaming forums were, as expected, pretty much split down the middle on the campaign when it was launched, with one half accusing it of trivialising war to sell trinkets and the other half loving it (and telling the whingers to harden up).
But the problem started when the campaign spread from New Zealand into America, and from the gaming blogs into the advertising industry. The negative commentary on industry blogs caught the attention of the Turtle Beach mothership in New York, which quickly withdrew its association from the project and apologised on its blog (it seems highly unlikely that HQ wasn't aware of such a big, expensive and potentially controversial campaign and gettng cold feet also seems fairly hypocritical given it's the same company that sells headsets specifically for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, one of the most violent games in history).
The post was removed from Campaign Brief, the teaser video was removed from the Turtle Beach NZ's YouTube channel and Droga5 and Fiveight had to fight a few PR fires. But they waited for the dust to settle and went ahead and released the full version to the gamers.
Ben Ward, the director of Fiveight New Zealand, says the “gut check” before the campaign launched was also backed up with testing of the core audience, which came back with no significant concerns. But, with hindsight, he says they should have released all the episodes in a very short period of time so that viewers could judge the whole project in its entirety.
O'Sullivan says gamers are hard to engage—and, given some of the violent games they play, harder still to shock—so the main challenge was to give them something they would be interested in and could relate to.
"The target audience is gamers. We're not selling soap; we're not selling washing powder. We're talking to an audience that's difficult to make flinch, so we had to go out there and be quite bold with something that would challenge them ... This was never meant to be played at 6pm on TV."
Now that the full version has been released into the wild, he says the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. And for our money, sending a cocky gamer to 'Iraq' and scaring the bejeesus out of them is a pretty bloody good way of showing, as the slogan says, that "gamers want it real, but not that real".
"Most people say 'God, I had no idea' when they see it. And Phil the gamer has had an amazing response and become something of a gaming celebrity."
There are a couple of lessons here. One is that the digital realm means local campaigns can quickly go global. In New Zealand, where peace-keeping is more our style, there wasn't much of a response to the campaign. In the US, however, a country currently at war, it is a hot button issue and that caused problems.
The other lesson is that while brands and agencies are increasingly trying to engage consumers with teasers, tricking them with fakes and then seeding these campaigns by telling a few porkies to the media before a big reveal is always a very risky strategy.
Still, as Seth Godin said in 2003, the most dangerous thing a marketer can be these days is safe.