REDMOND, WA: Microsoft's multimillion-dollar marketing push supporting the launch of Halo 3 for the Xbox 360 helped generate $170 million in sales, setting the new record for opening-day sales in the US by an entertainment property.
While Halo 3 debuted in the US on Tuesday, the PR campaign began over a year ago in May 2006 when a trailer for the game was shown at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Video-game developer Bungie created Halo 3, which is available exclusively for Xbox 360.
David Hufford, global director of Xbox PR, said that because there already was rabid interest in the title among gamers and the online community, Microsoft didn't feel the need to run a new/social-media-centric PR push. It felt the gaming community would spread the word about news and updates on its own via social-media sites and blogs.
Instead it focused its efforts on conducting a traditional media outreach effort targeting outlets including Time, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, and the NBC properties.
"The social-media space understands Halo 3 really well, and it's very strong virally online," said Hufford. "The challenge [was] to grow Halo beyond the converted. That's why we spent the majority of our time on the broader press. It was more about getting back to our roots of traditional media relations."
Hufford had very specific reasons for wanting to target conventional media outlets: The software giant was determined to convince the media and public that the launch of Halo's latest adaptation was a "cultural milestone" and as significant to the entertainment industry as a major film release.
"A lot of the journalists [editors and editorial boards] we speak with think of video games as something only kids are doing... so [our challenge] was to convince them this was something of greater cultural significance," Hufford said. "Wired called [the launch] a cultural touchstone, and USA Today called it a national holiday for fans. Those were the kinds of things we wanted to exude through our PR efforts, and we spent well over a year trying to seed these kinds of beliefs with the media."
In mid-September, Halo 3 made the cover of Time and is currently on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Microsoft worked with campaign lead agency Edelman, along with Taylor, on the launch. Hufford said Edelman "identified the big stories that would eventually lead us to a downpour of press coverage," and Taylor focused on sports and entertainment coverage and outreach to the multicultural markets.
Pete Pedersen, EVP at Edelman and lead on the Xbox account, said this has been the "most tightly coordinated" global campaign his team has worked on.
He said coverage of the launch has been multi-layered. "It's not just the video game reviewers or the arts and culture writers covering this," Pedersen explained. "There has been coverage in the business, lifestyle, sports, and entertainment press. Microsoft's team and the agencies involved intentionally layered the campaign in this manner to evoke this sense of ubiquity."
The second reason for Microsoft's traditional PR effort was to ensure that the media were aware of the game's goal of surpassing the opening day sales record of $166 million set this July with the launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Hufford said the media were taken by surprise when Halo 2 set the single-day record in 2004 and were left chasing "the tail" of the Halo story. "This time we wanted them to be aware that we believed we would reset the record, and we wanted them to get ahead of that story," Hufford said.