Although the expression “halo effect” was coined long before video games or video game systems were invented, Microsoft is hoping for a Halo effect during this frenetic, competitive Christmas shopping season.
Microsoft will release on Tuesday a special compilation of its popular Halo video game franchise for the Xbox One video game system. The compilation, called Halo: The Master Chief Collection, offers versions of the four Halo video games remastered in high definition along with additional content that includes the Halo: Nightfall series of videos and access to a multiplayer beta version of Halo 5: Guardians, scheduled for release late next year.
The collection, which retailers like Best Buy and Toys “R” Us are selling this week for $59.99, is the subject of a marketing campaign that rivals the promotion of a major motion picture — not surprising because the sequels to the original Halo helped bring the movie blockbuster approach to the video game industry. There is even a phrase on the package that is evocative of Hollywood hoopla: “For the first time ever, the Master Chief’s entire saga on one console.” (The games are Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 3 and Halo 4.)
Five agencies are working on the elements of the campaign, which include commercials, print ads, online ads, a public relations effort, outdoor ads, events and content on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Microsoft typically concentrates its ad spending for Xbox One and the other Xbox products in the fourth quarter, to stimulate holiday spending and keep up with rivals, most notably the PlayStation 4 video game system from Sony.
For instance, in the fourth quarter last year, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, Xbox ad spending totaled $38 million, compared with $41.8 million for all of 2013. Similarly, Xbox ad spending in the fourth quarter of 2012 totaled $31.4 million, Kantar Media reported, compared with $34 million for all of 2012.
Given that Microsoft has spent $31 million on ads for Xbox through July, according to Kantar Media, it is safe to say that media outlets whose viewers, readers and visitors are video game players can look forward to a green Christmas.
“It’s the gift-giving season” for consumers, says Taylor Smith, a senior director of marketing communications for Xbox at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash., when they are “buying gifts for others and, frankly, gifts for themselves.”
With Halo, “we’re in the business of entertainment,” he adds, enabling people to “become these characters” and “do things you can’t do in real life.”
The size and scope of the campaign acknowledges how Halo is “transcending gaming” and has become “a part of popular culture,” Mr. Smith says. “People love the idea of jumping into a future-forward world that’s advanced but believable and relatable.”
“It is our ‘Star Wars’ on Xbox,” he adds, “and you can only play it on Xbox.”
The idea of promoting Halo with anthemic advertising began with a campaign in 2007 for Halo 3, Mr. Smith says, which carried the theme “Believe."
The “Believe” campaign “reached out and grabbed people,” he adds, by presenting the Master Chief character “as a hero who matters to culture and society.”
The centerpiece of the new campaign are commercials for television and websites created by an agency known as Twofifteenmccann, which is part of the McCann Worldgroup division of the Interpublic Group of Companies. Twofifteenmccann, the global creative lead agency for Xbox, worked with 343 Industries, the developer of Halo, on the commercials.
One spot, titled “Rhythm," which has already started running online and on television, depicts action sequences from the collection. The vignettes are synced to sound effects from the games that recreate the music from “We Will Rock You” by Queen.
The Queen vocals do not kick in until about 21 seconds into the spot, giving viewers a chance to figure out the in-joke on their own before it is revealed. The spot ends with these words on screen: “Four blockbusters in one. Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Xbox One.”
Plans call for the second commercial, titled “Lucky Grunt,” to start appearing in the next week. The commercial takes a humorous tack, which is rare for the Halo franchise, and as a result it will run on websites like CollegeHumor and Funny or Die.
“Lucky Grunt” presents a mock interview with a Halo character called a grunt, who is, as Mr. Smith puts it, “the pawn on the front lines” in the combat depicted in the games.
In the commercial, the grunt is interviewed in a room that resembles backstage at a high school auditorium, complete with harsh lighting and potted plants. (Two ferns, perhaps?)
The incongruity of an alien creature in such a prosaic setting is pretty funny, as is the line of questioning from an off-screen interviewer. Asked if he is the only soldier who has survived “every battle with the Master Chief,” the grunt replies, “Yes, correct.”
The interviewer then springs a trap, revealing “footage of your heroics” — the grunt is shown hiding, running away and generally being scared. After each clip is shown, the grunt denies it is he who is behaving so cowardly.
“How do you plan to survive the Master Chief Collection, where players can relive every battle with the Master Chief over and over and over and over and over again?” the interview asks in an accusatory way. The grunt has no answer, instead hiding behind a curtain.
“You know we can see you ... right?” the interviewer asks. The grunt replies, “No, you can’t.” The commercial ends with a list of the contents of the Master Chief Collection.
The “Lucky Grunt” commercial plays with the concept that “Halo has a really serious tone to it, a sense the stakes are high, life or death,” says James Robinson, a co-chief creative officer of Twofifteenmccann. (The other is Scott Duchon.)
“'Lucky Grunt’ is a real nod to the fans, the hard-core Halo players,” Mr. Robinson says. “The grunt is getting killed” from the first moment, “and we’ve always thought no one’s told the story of this instant-cannon-fodder guy.”
Mr. Robinson chuckles at the idea that the “one who survived all four campaigns” is not “the biggest and the baddest” character but “the guy who ran away the fastest.”
The “Rhythm” commercial, on the other hand, “is big and broad,” he says, “and celebrates Halo’s place in popular culture” as well as “the sheer joy of playing the game.”
“As a gamer, I’m still friends with people in Australia and New Zealand I’ve played the original Halo with,” Mr. Robinson says, and the “Rhythm” commercial is intended to convey “the fun” of playing Halo, salute “the community” of Halo players and how competitive the game is.
“It would be wonderful if all you had to say” in a commercial or ad for the collection “was ‘Halo,’ and walk away,” he adds, but for “one of the most important titles for the Xbox, if not the most important,” more was called for.
The collection, and the campaign, are “a great way of reintroducing Halo to a core group of people” who grew up playing it, Mr. Robinson says, and provide “a great primer of the Halo universe” for “a younger, new generation” of gamers who own Xbox One but “might not have played a Halo game.”
The Los Angeles office of Human, a music production company, “used the sounds of the Halo games to recreate ‘We Will Rock You'” for the “Rhythm” commercial, Mr. Robinson says.
The other agencies working on the campaign, in addition to Twofifteenmccann, are Assembly, part of DJE Holdings, for public relations; the Ayzenberg Group, social media; Empowering Media, a unit of the Dentsu Aegis Network division of Dentsu, media planning and buying; and Razorfish, part of the Publicis Groupe, digital services.
If you like In Advertising, be sure to read the Advertising column that appears Monday through Friday in the Business Day section of The New York Times print edition and on nytimes.com.
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