Call of Duty's Twisted Advertising Campaign


If any coworkers showed up late today with bags under the eyes, don't buy their flimsy excuses. The seventh Call of Duty video game launched at midnight last night, and hundreds of thousands couldn't wait even a minute to jump into its Cold War-era military battlegrounds.

Based on hype and the series' huge fanbase, Call of Duty: Black Ops' sales figures won't take long to reach the stratosphere. In case you haven't already prepped comparisons to Avatar's sales, take note that Sam Worthington voices this game's main character.

Its publisher, Activision, probably didn't need to bother with advertising, but they went ahead and, er, unloaded a full payload. The result: A troubling melange of gun, grenade, and rocket combat acted out by blue-collar workers, children, and celebs like Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel.

I couldn't have asked for a more disappointing game-related ad. These aren't the video games I play. Even at their highest levels of action and violence, video games play like sophisticated games of Cops & Robbers. They're silly; they require colorful, funny-shaped controllers; they stay decidedly in the domain of detached fiction.

This ad equips people with real guns and simulates real-life, no-CGI combat. The thud of recoil, the screams of rockets, the dust of explosions... and the look of exasperation on that little, shotgun-wielding girl. The only things missing are the dead bodies on the receiving ends of each bullet and blast.

"There's a soldier in all of us," the ad proclaims, as if the word "soldier" is as one-dimensional as "hero" or "badass." It's not. Heck, prior Call of Duty games have employed "was it worth it" plot twists about expendable soldiers, nuclear proliferation, and trauma, making Activision's ad doubly disingenuous.

A few years ago, Microsoft decided against airing a similar ad, pasted below. Perhaps they pulled the ad to avoid disrespecting the sensitivities of real combat, but at least their take shared the whimsy and coyness that is inherent with video game battling. Activision's ad, on the other hand, comes closer to selling real death than any video game possibly could. I'm not buying it.

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Sam Machkovech is a freelance arts and tech writer based in Seattle, WA. More

Sam Machkovech is a freelance arts and tech writer based in Seattle. He began his career in high school as a nationally syndicated video games critic at the Dallas Morning News, eventually taking up the mantle of music section editor at Dallas weekly paper the Dallas Observer. His writing has since appeared in Seattle weekly The Stranger, in-flight magazine American Way, now-defunct music magazine HARP, gaming blog The Escapist, and Dallas business monthly Dallas CEO. He currently serves as a games and tech columnist for Seattle web site, as well as a volunteer tutor at the all-ages writing advocacy group 826 Seattle.
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