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Three Unbelievable (But True) Video Game Marketing Campaigns

Producers of all kinds of goods have relied upon professional marketers to deliver the catchy jingle, the eye-arresting billboard, the unforgettable commercial, or the viral video of the week in order to draw attention to whatever it is they’re hawking. The recently concluded Super Bowl LIV sold 30 second ad slots for a whopping $5.6 million, so this is no small dollar industry and effort we’re talking about here.

If you comb over your own memory banks, I’m sure you can recall outstanding examples you experienced over the years; everything from the incessant meows of a Meowmix commercial to an old lady wondering aloud where the beef is to babies with an incredible grasp of vocabulary exclaiming that they’re big kids now.

The same efforts are applied towards the marketing for video games. Modern day video game marketing tends to take the form of special editions and pre-order bonuses in addition to a big presence and perhaps a demo at conventions like E3. But it wasn’t always that way.

Some video gaming companies have tried some truly outrageous marketing campaigns to raise awareness of their new titles over the years, and perhaps none so more than Acclaim Studios. Before filing for bankruptcy in 2004, their marketing team really tried to think outside of the box and delivered some real hum-dingers…

Turok: Evolution

Back in 2002, Acclaim looked to release another title in the Turok series of video games (which I only recently learned were based on a comic series dating back as far as the 1950s) called Turok: Evolution.

To try and get the title’s name in front of people’s faces, they declared that the first baby born on September 1, 2002 (three days after it’s North America release – which was just enough time for parents to pre-register for the contest and read its rules). While the website has long since been defunct, here is a capture of the original release:

I couldn’t find any confirmations that someone took them up on the offer, which is a bit of a shame if you ask me. Your kid will hardly recall being named Turok and you could go about calling him or her whatever you’d like even if the name on the birth certificate read Turok. You’d just gift them with $10,000 towards college and a neat story when they’re older. Double win.

Burnout 2

I personally loved the Burnout series of games; particularly the Crash Mode which challenged you to rack up so many dollars of damage by driving your car into traffic, causing chain reactions to rocket your total to new heights. What is not to love about that when you’re 13 years old?! I had nothing but the best habits to learn as an aspiring driver from this series.

When Burnout 2 was set to launch in the UK, Acclaim declared that they would pay any speeding fines incurred on its release date: October 11, 2002. By the way…this is just one month after the Turok contest, so they were on fire!

The United Kingdom’s government didn’t take too kindly to what they perceived as an encouragement to break the law, and so the promotion never got any…traction. But it got the name of the game out there, so mission accomplished, I guess, as news outlets broadcast reports on the publicity stunt all over the country.

Shadow Man: 2econd Coming

Saving the best for last, we come to Acclaim Studio’s marketing campaign for Shadow Man: 2econd Coming. A third person adventure game centering around the supernatural and undead, the marketing team thought, “Hey, we should advertise our games on actual tombstones.” So they did…or at least they tried.

And we’re not talking about grave markers they set up around urban cityscapes. We’re talking actual tombstones. The company reportedly offered a cash incentive to hang billboard- or poster-like advertisements on the grave markers for the recently deceased to their families. Rumor has it they even referred to the effort as “deadvertising.” They also said that the offer might “particularly interest poor people.” Woof.

In their book The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, authors Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant write,

It would rank among the more brazen acts in the modern trend of guerrilla marketing. Their purpose, of course, was to cause a stir, and it wasn’t long before the Church of England rose to the bait. No way would it allow any of its graveyards to be used for advertising in this way, a spokesman told The Guardian, adding, “There was enough fuss with plastic flowers in churchyards.”

pg. 121

And here’s the real kicker: When pushback came their way, Acclaim doubled down on the campaign, with one spokesperson saying, “It’s a dark, gory type of game and we thought it was appropriate to raise advertising to a new level.” As far as Doctor Internet knows, no one took them up on the offer anyway; not even the poor they’d hung their hopes on. As it turns out, desecration isn’t a great marketing angle, but how could they have known that without giving it a try?

Can you guess which year this stunt was pulled? You got it: 2002! My Google-fu wasn’t strong enough to determine whether this was the work of one mad individual with too much creative liberty or one cockamamie idea after another by three separate individuals who (surely, right?!) lost their jobs in turn.