Viral marketing campaigns for video games are nothing new. When done successfully, they often manage to present forthcoming titles in an unconventional way while also portraying the publisher’s and developer’s sensibilities. For instance, about a month ago, a Metal Gear Solid 5 café opened up in Paris to much delight in order to celebrate the release of Kojima Productions’ and Konami’s most recent entry in the stealth-action franchise. Microsoft and 343 Industries have also been keen to utilize the marketing technique by offering fans additional stories for Halo 5: Guardians with a free serialized podcast known as Hunt the Truth.
Today, in their own strange way, Activision has attempted to mimic the success of the aforementioned campaigns so as to promote Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. However, instead of simply releasing a viral video or creating a participatory event in which fans could partake, the publisher briefly altered Call of Duty: Black Ops 3‘s Twitter account to fabricate a terrorist attack as if it were occurring in real time.
Fans following the Black Ops 3 Twitter account may have noticed earlier this afternoon at 1:00pm Eastern time that the handle “Current Events Aggregate” – an imitation of news outlets such as @BreakingNews and @AP, which disseminate global headlines from around the world – had begun tweeting about an explosion on the North bank of the Singapore Marina. Subsequent tweets started pouring in describing an unfolding event that escalated to military involvement, quarantine zones, and eventually a state of Martial Law.
BREAKING NEWS: Unconfirmed reports are coming in of an explosion on the North bank of the Singapore Marina.— Call of Duty (@CallofDuty) September 29, 2015
"At this time, the cause of the incident is unknown. There have been no claims of responsibility from any organization."— Call of Duty (@CallofDuty) September 29, 2015
While the Black Ops 3 Twitter page has changed from the design scheme seen in the banner at the top of the article and has now returned to normal, many who follow the account were possibly startled at first, as they were unaware of the marketing ploy, and more than likely double-checked the veracity of the claims by researching the event on Google. People who initially feared the worst surely recalled the reportage of explosions such as the Port of Tianjin blasts in China last August and the bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, Thailand later that same month, as they were covered on social media in a very similar manner.
Thankfully, since the content was only a glimpse at the story in Black Ops 3‘s campaign mode, no one was actually harmed. However, Activision should regret creating such a tasteless marketing campaign. Yes, they successfully achieved the goal of getting people to talk about their video game – as we’re doing right now – but the method was rather tactless, as Activision‘s manufacturing of a fake terrorist attack could have easily been misconstrued as the real thing, and led to panic.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is set to release on November 6, 2015 for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.