Tuesday Mar 28

Issue index

McCann and Microsoft - The X-Factor

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Issue #01 - Interviews

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Microsoft Halo 3's Gears of WarAs part of what will become a regular series of insights into branding success stories, we caught up with the Tokyo-based Global ECD of McCann Erickson, Jeremy Perot, and Eli Friedman, Senior Director Xbox Global Brand Marketing.

he whitewash of Microsoft Xbox Halo 3 across all the international awards - and Halo 3 boasting more than US$300 million in sales in its first week - made McCann and Microsoft an obvious choice for our inaugural issue’s most perfect couple.

Agency.Asia: McCann and Microsoft righteously slaughtered the enemy last year with Xbox Halo 3 taking out the Grand Prix at Cannes across Film and Interactive categories. How can you convey the impact Xbox had upon the global advertising awards. What was the final tally?

Jeremy Perrot: The heralded Halo 3 "Believe" campaign - which already had captured the GRANDY at the International Andy Awards; five gold cubes at the Art Directors Club; Best of Show at the One Show; the Grand Clio at The Clio Awards; and a yellow pencil at the D&AD awards, among others - continued its hugely winning ways at Cannes. T.A.G./McCann Worldgroup San Francisco won 5 Lions for Halo 3.

Check out Halo 3 TVCs here.

Besides bagging two Grand Prix awards, it won a Gold Lion in the Film category for "Diorama;" a Silver Cyber award for the Halo 3 website/microsite; and a Bronze Lion for the best use of music in the Film category. Halo 3 also won a Gold Lion in the Promo category for McCann London.

Agency.Asia: The global economy is in possibly the worst state it has ever been in, but your industry has consistently demonstrated that it is somewhat resistant to the downturn. In recent months a gaming industry monitor in the United States, The NPD Group, reported that total industry sales were $2.91 billion, up 10 percent.

Software sales rose 11 percent to $1.45 billion while hardware sales increased 10 percent to $1.21 billion. Sales of accessories also climbed seven percent to $255.4 million. Would you like to offer marketers any hints that might be translated to lessen their own recession woes?

Eli Friedman: We’ve all worked really hard over many years to make the Xbox 360 as appealing as it possibly can. We are now seeing the results - over 28 million Xbox 360 owners, an eye popping library of over 400 titles in Asia, support from every significant game publisher, a trailblazing online service with Xbox LIVE with over 17 million members and amazing array of choices packaged into an affordable offerings for different consumer segments. I’m afraid there is no secret sauce or silver bullet to this, just passion, patience and dogged hard work.

The line to but the HaloAgency.Asia: We’ll rephrase that question for you, Jeremy. Advertisers globally are murdering their marketing budgets right now. Maybe you’ll disagree with our logic, but wouldn’t this be the time for brands to be pushing their barrow and their budgets harder than previously and increasing their market share?

Jeremy Perrot: It’s always easy to say to clients that when times are tough they should spend more, it’s not our money, but the advice is ... yes... spend to be in the eyes of your consumer now more than ever because out of sight right now, is well and truly out of mind and certain marketing death - the smart companies know this and always stick to the plan... but nowadays it’s not so much about the spending, but rather the engaging of consumers ... to be closer, nearer, and therefore not forgotten.

Which is why I am so determined to get our clients into the alternative media available, which is not the traditional and expensive TV, print, but digital, interactive and involving.

New media has given us the touch and feel traditional media lacked so now consumers can relate, reach out and stay with our brands, their brands as trusted partners... seems a little weird to talk in this way ... but the Internet has enabled consumers to live in a very different manner than before.

Agency.Asia: Other than Xbox, can you give us any notable examples of clients who seem to be bucking the current trend and prospering in the face of the recession?

Jeremy PerrotJeremy Perrot (left): One very good example is in Japan where our Healthcare agency has produced an amazing digitally integrated campaign for Bayer who could not advertise in mass media, because of government rules around the highly sensitive subject of oral contraception.

The brief was to drive woman to clinics for the drug. There was a compelling digital animation video show of the core types or females ... active, romantic, arty, business etc. An interactive video ran on three giant TV screens opposite each other in the world’s most busy intersection at Shibuya.

Titled talking buildings, the videos interacted with each other... females could log on to the show via their mobile phones using QR codes, from there they could interact with the characters, ask questions, make comment ... they could also sign up for an appointment with a doctor and a GPS tracker would guide them to the nearest participating clinic... ..where because of a pre answered on line a questionnaire ... the doctor would be expecting a visit, know the patients basic character, name and lifestyle... and be able to prescribe the right dosage.

This overcame embarrassment for the woman and avoided all the hang-ups associated with going to a doctor. On the street woman were handed leaflets, and phone key fobs with the characters of video on them and a web address. The pr gained from this was priceless.

halo xboxThe response has been triple the expected. The authorities were left watching as a seemingly entertaining video played on giant screens… hundreds of woman were replying and engaging and interacting with the brand. And none of it ran in main media.

This is what I mean when I talk about engagement, involving, and embracing the consumer with new media... in ways that they want to be spoken to. Halo engaged in a way that caught everyone off guard emotionally and embraced them while they experienced the communication.

McCann Healthcare is our Media Magazine Agency of the Year in 08. This agency is working in a highly complex field of product and brands...many of those brands and corporations are bigger than the FMCG disciplines because of those complexities, the laws surrounding communication, information and how we engage with a very diverse audience: doctor, patient, technician, specialist, clinician, politician, key opinion leaders and law makers...we have to be more adventurous, more clever, more intelligent and more able to think way out side the box and connect. Innovation is our playing field and we own it.

Clients are no longer expecting conventional ad campaign to launch a billion dollar drug ...nor do they want it ... as do the end users ...patient doctors and the like. Innovation is where the unexpected results impact in ways and with results that stir emotions and sales through audience participation and endorsement.

Check out Halo 3 TVCs here.

Agency.Asia: Your branding efforts on Xbox undoubtedly resulted in tremendously strong sales in a traditionally tight category.

Many marketers might scoff and say that they couldn’t care whether their brand wins silly advertising awards.

We’ll take a punt and say that Xbox believes that award winning work translates into sales. Notwithstanding that you can only speak of such an immense campaign in only the broadest terms, please outline what was involved in the now legendary launch.

Jeremy Perrot: A lot has been written about this launch already but the key factor was the emotional engagement the campaign had on and with consumers, round the world.

The idea, a simple clever and beautifully executed one, leapt over the fact of it being a game and a cyber game at that... and touched the hearts, and imagination of everyone in an unexpected display of capturing images of war that Halo played in and portrayed the war, we took for granted, as game and showed the reality of that war, its soldiers, casualties and destruction. Suddenly we all became involved in the war. It’s a game ...but shit, didn’t we feel the reality!

Eli FriedmanEli Friedman (right): Of course, the awards are great and we’re very proud of our accomplishments - for the team and for our agencies. For Xbox, I think our success has been in managing to make great sales and at the same time, win advertising awards.

And we do believe that by engaging consumers in our advertising, there are longer-term benefits that ultimately translate into the kind of brand love that money can’t buy.

Agency.Asia: Games like Halo 3 and Gears of War 2 have made Xbox 360 a must have item, not least of which is the fact that they are available only on Xbox. The industry is also obviously intensely price sensitive.

The three leading hardware players traditionally move the goal posts price-wise through the course of a year even. What are the major factors that have led to Xbox coming out in the lead?

Eli Friedman: We’ve worked incredibly hard to get to where we are now. While price is important, we believe that delivering a great gaming experience is even more crucial. We focused our efforts on delivering an amazing product proposition where consumers can have fun with together with their friends and family -and made that experience available only on Xbox 360. That is our real differentiator.

Agency.Asia: The Halo 3 work was created by T.A.G./McCann Worldgroup, San Francisco. There is a significant amount of dramatic dialogue in some of the campaign executions - was it translated into a multitude of dialects or did you feel the message worked well enough in English alone? What are the significant differences between marketing to Americans, say, and between the various Asian markets?

Jeremy Perrot: Its simple everyone got it. And Asia is a highly aware region with so much western influence already here that in many cases... they are more western than the west! In contrast the US market you often have to state the obvious and be very much more direct or blunt.

Eli Friedman: Broadly speaking, cultural differences more than language differences, can be a real stumbling block in our advertising campaigns. What works in the US - where most of our global campaigns originate from -may or may not work in the various markets in Asia. Where an idea works, we tend to prefer to subtitle as opposed to redub. This keeps the authenticity of the original work.

Agency.Asia: Jeremy, you’ve lived in Japan and worked in its advertising industry for many years. It is a bit of a mystery market to many foreigners. The head of one of Australia’s most successful and awarded agencies, Warren Brown of BMF, once commented that nobody else in the world could understand Japanese advertising - he wasn’t specifically referring to the language. What’s your view?

Check out Halo 3 TVCs here.

Jeremy Perrot: Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean its wrong or bad. Without going into an argument over perception or culture or if square pegs fit round holes... I’d rather say that Japanese communication is an art in itself.

This is a country that has successfully minimalised cooking down to the most minimal degree. It’s the only country in the world where I would eat a steak raw and all of a fish. And at the same time know the presentation of the food was as important as the food itself.

You really have to live in a country to understand why and how it ticks. I have heard planners in UK say there is no strategy in Japanese communication. To the foreigner who thinks laterally ... that’s probably right... since they are not seeing all the hidden meanings, the depth of symbology in language, and its many ways of being interpreted... nor are they Japanese. Its like saying to an Australian, do you get French advertising? No way!

Japanese advertising has its own quirk, and meaning... quite often built around a play on words or word sounds ... because their language has two alphabets ... and is hieroglyphic in style... but there is always a strategy... to sell or cut through ... to hit a nerve or be remembered.

Bill Gates at SEA 10

It must work because it’s one of the, if not the biggest ad markets in the world - with the world’s biggest ad agency here. Korea is the same as is China.

I love that the work is a mystery... and when you have creative directors from Spain, Italy Germany, France ask how can they get jobs here ... or the editor of Italian mode magazines tell you that they love the thinking or when you see Clio and Cannes award work from a mystery country ... then you really know its magical.

Agency.Asia: As we mentioned earlier, the Xbox Halo 3 work won awards across virtually every medium. It is almost unprecedented for one brand to overshadow all others across film, print, outdoor, radio, integrated - you name it.

Have you and your regional creative directors made particularly conscious moves to bond - integrate - your digital and traditional creative teams within McCann? There is a huge disparity in the take-up of digital across Asia, with Japan and Korea leading the way - by a long way. Hell, they’re cropping up on everything from outdoor posters to tombstones.

Simon on the Halo shootJeremy Perrot: Yes there is an ongoing mission within the Worldgroup of companies to integrate and involve the many new media and disciplines of communication. Healthcare for example focus on Innovation, it is the future for their clients and for the consumer.

We have a number of fantastic specialist companies who work on an increasingly closer relationship with each other, as client demand for more engagement and integration is consumed by their audiences. TV, print radio is taking a back seat and although is still a favorite with agencies... the smart money is buying the media where 98% of women for example make their purchase before even going to the store. Digital.

Agency.Asia: Other than brandishing extraordinarily good creative, what do McCann bring to the table that makes this a very successful relationship? Do you work closely on strategic development?

For Xbox, those insights come through a collaborative approach that brings all the right people to the table early in the process.

Eli Friedman: The TAG team at McCann San Francisco has been with us since we launched Xbox 360 and they’re a great partner. Like any relationship, you need to have trust - and I think our relationship has progressed to a level where we trust each other’s judgment and we can get in the trenches and work together as a team to bring their ideas to life. Great campaigns always (or almost always) emanate from a powerful strategic insight.

For Xbox, those insights come through a collaborative approach that brings all the right people to the table early in the process. Our global marketing communications team, the product marketing team, our consumer insights team, the global marketing leads, and of course, TAG SF, are all involved in those discussions. We start the process well in advance and ultimately work with TAG to try to land on a key insight that can sit at the center of everything we do. It’s amazing what can happen when all the work can be united around a core idea and when everyone on the team can commit to it as well.

Agency.Asia: Are we going to see a repeat of your success again very soon? Let’s say that you both agree to give Agency.Asia a scoop for our first edition and reveal your new campaign! Yes?

Jeremy Perrot: Of course... but you know... creativity is not like hotel art, you don’t just order it to suit the room. It’s a combination of many unexpected happenings that cannot be put against a mathematical process. But, when a client believes in something great, and gets behind it... then it has a life and a chance to be seen. We often forget the role of a great client in great work.

Eli Friedman: We hope so! Will you give us an awesome award if we do?

Agency.Asia: As a matter of fact we will be launching the quite a novel award in the not too distant future - with businesses such as Microsoft nominating their agency, rather than the advertising industry congratulating itself. It would be safe to assume that McCann will get the nod from you guys - so maybe you’ll both win. Speaking of which, how about nominating someone else in the marketing world that our readers would most like to hear from! Thanks Jeremy and Eli. Congratulations on showing the world how agency and client relationships can and should be.

Jeremy Perrot: Oren Frank our global ECD at MRM, digital communications, NYC Jeff Weiss our global ECD at Momentum, NYC Both these guys will put a fire under anyone who stands still.

Credits: The Halo 3 Museum campaign was developed at T.A.G/McCann by executive creative directors Rob Bagot and John McNeil, group creative directors Scott Duchon and Geoff Edwards, creative director John Patroulis, art director Nate Able and Tim Stier, copywriter Mat Bunnell, and agency producer Hannah Murray. Filming was shot by director Rupert Sanders via MJZ with executive producers David Zander, Lisa Rich, Marcia Deliberto, director of photography Chris Soos, and line producer Laure Boccaccio.
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