When their guerrilla stunts proved too controversial in July and too tepid in August, the team finally hit the sweet spot with the month of Greed. In one of their smartest and most well-received marketing moves, EA sent a "Greed Box" to some of the most popular video-game blogs.
In the original Inferno, Dante describes the Fourth Circle as an eternal conflict between the hoarders and wasters, two sides of the greedy coin. Each of EA's boxes included a check for $200, which blog editors were invited to cash or trash. Keep the money, and you're a hoarder. Spurn the check, and you're a waster. In the end, some blew the money, and some burned the money. But some blogs found a nice solution for the moral quandary: They gave the money to charity. EA had created "Hoarder" and "Waster" prize packs for the bloggers, but in an impressive bit of quick thinking, they had agency partner Wieden + Kennedy produce a "Righteous" box for those who donated the $200. (You can see all three follow-up boxes here.)
"After 'Sin to Win' went sideways," Marineau says, "we wanted to make sure we had an alternate plan and really paid attention to how things went in real time."
What's worse than being Rickrolled? A Rickroll in a box.
In October, EA sent complex wooden boxes to its usual suspects in the blogging community. Once opened, each box started playing Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" on a loop—and wouldn't stop until you smashed it to pieces with a hammer (included, along with safety glasses). You can see the results for yourself over at Kotaku.
The boxes, like all of the campaign's intricate props, were designed by a production department within Wieden + Kennedy. Each month, the agency worked closely with EA to produce complex and original materials within the campaign's scant $20,000-a-month budget. "Wieden + Kennedy was 100 percent instrumental in doing this," Marineau says. "I can't say enough about how great Wieden's been with this."
Returning to its guerrilla roots, the marketing effort was a bit harder to spot in November. Again working closely with Wieden, the marketing team created a fake video game for the Nintendo Wii called Mass: We Pray. "Now you can go to church every day without leaving your home," boasts the faux trailer. "Bring your family closer—to heaven!"
The stunt fooled some bloggers, such as Sarcastic Gamer, into covering the game. It continues to dupe unsuspecting viewers on YouTube, where the trailer has racked up more than 670,000 views.
Bringing a little of hell to life—just in time for the holidays!—the Dante's Inferno team let bloggers pick an ornament from a "human Christmas tree." The bloggers were then shown a video of the ornament being torn from the flesh of some tortured soul. A few days later, the bloody bits of holiday horror were delivered to each blogger. Marineau still has one set of the ornaments on his desk at EA, where he says it's always a good conversation starter.
Knowing that bloggers would be expecting some shenanigans during the month of Fraud, EA really left them guessing by "leaking" info that was just weird enough to be believable. The leaks hinted at game-related products like "Dante's Inferno Cologne" and the "Dante's Inferno Circle Cycle" for kids. Hints within the materials led to a site called CutByTongues.com, where you were reportedly rewarded for your effort by having your face featured in the game (but not really).
The most attention-grabbing bit of fakery was a list of bogus Xbox 360 Achievements for in-game accomplishments. The International Nanny Association took umbrage with the game's reported "Bad Nanny" achievement for killing "a yet undetermined number of unbaptized infants."
Less acknowledged but equally preposterous achievements included:
• "Pope on a Rope": Kill one Pope by hanging.
• "Triple Cripple": Kill three or more enemies by breaking their backs.
• "Crucifu#ed": Kill 100 Undead Minions using only the Cross.
• "Two Demons One Cup": Kill two Gluttons while covered in their feces.
None of the achievements was real. Here's the official list, which is downright lame by comparison.
UPDATE: As a commenter points out, the Bad Nanny thing is in the game.
The lowest circle of hell, Treachery, was obviously fertile ground for a grand finale of EA's nine-month guerrilla campaign. Although it didn't go live until two weeks after the game had premiered, this last viral push did help generate some renewed buzz for Dante's Inferno.
On Feb. 22, EA began running TV ads for Hawkpanther.com, a site that supposedly helps you learn to steal a friend's girlfriend, fiancée or wife. (For the ladies, there was also a Hawkpanthra system "coming soon.") The microsite and its related Hawkpanther social-media accounts didn't seem to get much notice when they launched, but that all changed when the TV ads hit the air. It quickly became the talk of Twitter, as viewers clicked through the site and eventually stumbled across a Dante's Inferno splash page accusing them of treacherous intent "for conspiring to steal thy friend's soul mate."
With that, EA capped off its "Nine Months of Hell" guerrilla and viral marketing campaign. In the end, it has proven to be a multifaceted case study for modern marketers. EA and Wieden + Kennedy pushed the envelope and were both alternately praised and panned for their efforts. But they learned from their mistakes and managed to keep people's interest for months on end.
And these days, that can be hard as hell.
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