Xbox Builds Buzz for Halo with “Easter Egg” Strategy

Giving consumers something to discover worked for Microsoft’s Xbox brand to the tune of 10 million units sold when it released “Halo 3” two years ago. So the brand wasn’t exactly looking to change its approach to create buzz for the video game’s new prequel release on Sept. 22.

“The moment a ‘Halo’ piece goes out, there’s just a flurry of coordination online through a community of sites,” said Taylor Smith, director, games marketing communications, Xbox. Smith described the phenomenon that ensues when entertainment and gaming brands hide “Easter eggs,” or messages, clues, and inside jokes tucked away in marketing content, awaiting discovery by crafty fans.

“You’ve got this whole community of folks looking to break down and crack the code. So, we try to build it out not only in one layer, but also two, three, and four layers deep, so we can give them a thrill.”

To promote the launch of “Halo 3: ODST,” Xbox and its advertising and technology agencies, AKQA, Immersive Media, and T.A.G., formalized a TV-digital combo game plan earlier this year to capitalize on the consumer devotion to the Halo series. Their key goal: Build awareness among the primary demographic of 18-to-34-year-old males who own an Xbox console and tease them into pre-order sales.

Starting on September 7, video versions of TV spots debuted on MySpace and the gaming site IGN.com. Later that week, the spots appeared on men-focused cable network Spike and FX’s channel in the United Kingdom. A page take-over ad at Hulu.com also was part of the mix.

The TV commercials featured a code of numbers and letters that flashed on the screen for just a second or two during the action-based spots. Consumers who picked out the code could use it to watch “secret” 3D-styled videos at the game’s Web site, which employed Immersive Media’s interactive technology.

The technology allowed viewers to use their cursors to pan around the room featured in the video and collect other clues for the game. As an example, they could change the viewing angle — while the pre-recorded footage rolled — to peek at items on a table or posted to a wall.

The site included links to buy the disc version of the game at major e-retailers, while also allowing viewers to click-through and purchase online downloads. But most important, Smith said, based on the history of the Halo series, his team felt strongly that the codes, or “Easter eggs,” would go viral.

“The Halo fans in general are just kind of adamant about breaking down the codes,” Smith said. “We’ve conditioned them over the years in the way we’ve launched ‘Halo 2’ and ‘Halo 3’ to really start to look for codes. There’s always another step to take. But it’s never really hit-you-over-the-head and obvious. You kind of got to go find it.”

Meanwhile, rich media and standard display ads ran on game-oriented sites. The brand’s bi-monthly e-mail blasts also have pushed the prequel, as did print ads in consumer and gaming publications.

The campaign appears to be working. Since its Labor Day launch, the dedicated Web site has had more than 280,000 unique visitors, according to Julia Jahn, account supervisor at AKQA.

Perhaps most important, the TV-digital combo created the desired chatter on the blogosphere about the hidden clues. “It spread like wildfire,” Jahn said. “People across the world started picking up on [the codes]. Within 24 hours, the codes were found.”

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