Every year Activision releases a new Call of Duty game and every year they continue to break records with each installment. Because of the annualized nature of the series, timing the marketing is key, in order to maximize the profitability of DLC of the prior release in the series, before moving on to the next.

In the case of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 however, the marketing strategy was tossed out the window when Kotaku infamously spilled the beans on the title, revealing everything about the game, from box art, the official logo, characters, locations to maps lists, weapon info and story spoilers. So, how did Activision handle the situation?

This occurred nine months before the release of the game and Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg offered a response to the leak days later, explaining that they were going to make the best of the situation.

“While it’s definitely not cool to steal other people’s intellectual property, and while it’s definitely not cool to leak stuff that’s not yours, there are ways that you can respond that actually turn the lemons into lemonade, and that’s what we tried to do on Friday.”

At last week’s CES event in Las Vegas, Hirshberg rehashed the story and explained how it affected him and his staff . He was in therapy when it happened and like most people at the company, didn’t know how to react. They quickly held meetings where they decided to take a positive approach and make us of the opportunity instead of focusing on the negative.

“Like it or not, our launch just started. It wasn’t on our timetable and we didn’t instigate it, but it’s out there, folks, and we can’t put it back in. And our fans didn’t do anything wrong today – they’re having a great day! They’re really interested in this game, they really want to know what happened, they’re poring over all of the details trying to figure out what’s true, what’s not, is it real, is it not – and we weren’t ready for this, but we’ve got to deal with it.

“And the wrong way to deal with it is to let the process of figuring out what happened with the leak be the public-facing sort of marketing message. That has to happen and that’s important work, but that’s not the dialogue you want to be having with your fans. Because you go into that silverback gorilla corporate lockdown mode and it’s not appealing, it’s not fun.”

And the result of this was that fans got to see the pre-planned TV Spots for Modern Warfare 3 a full month early online, one day after the leaks, confirming all of the information that had been revealed. Two days after the teaser trailers, the game’s release date was confirmed and pre-order opportunities became available, followed by the official Modern Warfare 3 website launching a few days later.

“The greatest value in this digital connected world is the value of transparency, so we figured, let’s just be straight with people, let’s tell them what happened, then let’s lean into it.”

“A little fire of interest about our game just got started today, and on most other days of the year we would come in and say, ‘Hey, everyone’s on the internet talking about us,’ and that would be a good thing, right? Why is it because we didn’t instigate it and we didn’t control it, why does that instantly make it a bad thing? It’s not.”

“So what we did was we took the fire of interest that had been lit and we poured gasoline on it.”

In the end, Activision won out with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 debuting as the biggest entertainment launch ever. Fortunately for them, the brand and built-in fanbase remain unaffected by the leak. The timing also worked out since Activision had most of their marketing materials ready to go at the time.

If you’re a fan, enjoy the 9 months if incoming MW3 DLC and look forward to what could next-gen Call of Duty games from Treyarch and Infinity Ward.

Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Source: Ad Age (via Eurogamer)

SCROLL FOR NEXT ARTICLE