Marketing Master Chief

October 10th, 2007

Hawking Halo 3 with all sorts of schlock

By Natalie Shoemaker

Across the world men cry out in their native tongue, cursing what lies before them: a massacre of the worst kind. These men kneel before the glowing screens as they watch their warriors fall. However, among the enraged many, one is juxtaposed, emitting a chipper “yes!” before taking a big gulp of Mountain Dew Game Fuel, the drink of gamers.

This is one of many examples of the rampant advertising campaigns for Halo 3 pairing the game with a commercial item.
Halo is a first-person shooter game with an epic storyline. Since its first release in 2001 the series has grown into a corporate powerhouse—the main protagonist, John Master Chief, becoming the most marketable aspect of the game and a character fanboys admire. (“Fanboy” is a term deemed upon an individual, stereotypically male, who is devoted to a single subject, such as Halo, and in some cases verges on obsession or loss of social life).

When Halo was first dreamt up there were no major marketing strategies, just the lowly Bungie Studios. The game company originally worked for Macintosh, until they switched to Microsoft Game Division. On November 15, 2001, Halo was released, quickly breaking records, selling one million copies by April 8, 2002. Magazines praised its excellence, and gamers wanted more.

Those aloof at first would soon know Halo by its second triumphant coming. Master Chief, as a result of increased marketing, became Pepsi-Cola’s poster boy for their soft drink Mountain Dew.

This time around, with a killer marketing strategy, Microsoft has made sure that its baby is well taken care of by dealing out betas and marketing campaigns to make Halo 3 a household name.

Corporations are also taking this opportunity to sell many products to the loyal fans by offering various Halo 3 swag to add to the excitement.

Mountain Dew normally packs 55.2 mg of caffeine per 12 oz. But Pepsi-Cola, in late
July, announced a new variant of the popular line, dubbed Game Fuel. The campaign features Master Chief on drink containers, posing for the camera, weapons in tow, to help jumpstart the Halo 3 hype. Game Fuel contains 73 mg of caffeine, perfect for giving gamers that desired all-night sugar high—the fanboy’s equivalent to crack cocaine.

It is estimated that over a million of the pre-ordered Halo 3 games will most likely be “binge-played,” a term fashioned to describe the constant state of game play until victory is won and enemies vanquished—with possible breaks for meals, if those haven’t been pre-ordered as well.

Burger King announced that on September 24, 2007—the day before release—Master Chief would be featured on large collectors cups and French fry wrappers. Microsoft will also be sponsoring David Stremme’s car racing for NASCAR’s Dover 400 of the Nextel Cup Series.

Steve Marks, an Ithaca College student and gamer, had this to say about the advertising campaign:

“It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. Not to say it’s not successful, but it’s absurd.”

Absurd, yes. But effective?

True to record-breaking form, Microsoft released Halo 3 on September 25, 2007, grossing approximately $170 million in the United States within the first 24 hours—more than any other entertainment product sold…ever.

Granted, the Halo franchise is a bump up from where video games were five years ago. There were still the fanboys, but they were of the exclusive kind. “Games are now a more viable market for corporations,” Marks says. “They are all around taken more seriously, and [that] opens up more opportunities.”

The time for video games can, in a way, be compared to art in the Renaissance. Before the Renaissance, only the rich and wealthy could afford fine art, and what they wanted, the artists gave them. Video games like Halo used to belong a few select gamers.

However, gameplay now caters to a larger audience with the commitment factor decreasing. Games such as “Big Brain Academy” for the Nintendo DS are games that you can pick up and play anytime, whereas games like “Bioshock” or “Final Fantasy 12” need time set aside in order to have the full experience.

Games have also become more advanced, offering a certain aesthetic pleasure to the viewer, whereas the 8-bit construction offered little sightseeing for players. Previously, if a game’s storyline or sheer amusement did not grab the gamer’s attention, it was a flop.

But today, reflecting the public’s growing interest, game companies are climbing the corporate ladder, and there’s no glass ceiling stopping them. Like film, there has also been a trend in versatile game production. There are indie games (made in garage basements), guilty pleasures, aesthetic spectacles, and masterpieces.

But video game marketing is not yet on par with film. The Halo marketing release was surely the first of its kind and will likely set a precedent for future smash hits. Where one usually finds a Disney princess doll in a Happy Meal there might be a menacing Master Chief. So the only question left is what’s next after gaming has found its marketing niche? I say reality TV shows.

So bring on the complimentary “Pick Up Artist” roofie with every Burger King soft drink, or the “Flavor of Love,” do-it-yourself STD kit with every Trojan condom. When will enough be enough?

Natalie Shoemaker is a sophomore exploratory major who keeps her treasured Disney Happy Meal toys in a secret shrine. Email her at nshoema1[at]

Whaling Wall Matthew Farrell
Chow Feng Shui Josh Elmer
Stained Glass Ceiling Emily McNeill
Anarchitect Mike Berlin
SaHarrison Desert Harrison Flatau
Metrolollipopolis Jennifer Konerman
Tropic of Scurvy Heather Newberger
Copy Editors Danielle Sherwood
  Jenna Scatena
  Elliott Feedore
Adviser Mary Beth O’Connor
Chief Residents Abby Bertumen
  Kelly Burdick
  Bryan Chambala
  Sam Costello
  Cole Louison
  James Sigman

Buzzsaw Haircut is funded by the Ithaca College Student Government Association, the Park School of Communications and a generous grant from Campus Progress.

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Front cover and back cover of print edition by Jake I. Forney.
Section dividers of print edition by Jake I. Forney and Justin Lubliner.