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How Call of Duty: Vanguard Brought Five Interactive Zombie Heads to London


72andSunny LA’s ECD Zach Hilder speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about creating a “cultural moment” for Activision’s latest instalment in the Call of Duty Zombies saga - with ‘undead’ trophy heads that brought shocks to Shoreditch

How Call of Duty: Vanguard Brought Five Interactive Zombie Heads to London

In just two days, the highly anticipated next instalment of the Call of Duty series will be released. Along with the usual offerings of a ‘cinematic, globe-trotting campaign’ mode and the much-beloved online multiplayer, Call of Duty: Vanguard will release with the fan-favourite Zombies mode.

Call of Duty’s various zombies modes have become something of an institution. There’s a dedicated online community, led by content creators who delve into the gameplay and the many hidden Easter eggs and stories that have become synonymous with the game mode.

To celebrate the return of zombies and to bring the campaign back to Call of Duty Zombies’ Nazi-zombie killing roots, creative agency 72andSunny LA created a campaign involving a wall of interactive zombie heads to be displayed in Shoreditch that give passers-by the fright of their lives. They also sent mysterious ‘care-packages’ to influencers that are enough to make even the bravest of zombie enthusiasts do their best impression of Brad Pitt in Se7en. 

LBB’s Ben Conway spoke with Zach Hilder, executive creative director at 72andSunny LA to discuss feeling like they were setting up a ‘guerilla stunt’, the importance of interactivity and why the only thing better than killing a zombie is killing a Nazi zombie.

LBB> Where did the initial creative spark for the campaign come from? Did Activision have a brief, or did you approach them with the idea?

Zach> Activison briefed us to create a cultural moment for their new Zombies mode. It's always been a fan-favourite, but has never received the same marketing love that the rest of the game has had over the years. When we looked at the mode, we realised it was the return of WWII Nazi zombies which is where the mode began, which led us to our insight: the only thing better than killing a zombie is killing a Nazi zombie. 

LBB> How did the idea of putting Zombie heads in London develop? Can you take us through the creative process? 

Zach> When we first started to execute the idea we realized that location would be everything. It would make or break how successful this campaign would be and how fun we could make our film. We had several approaches, looking at major events, at cities all over the US and different parts of the world until we landed on a cool creative spot in Shoreditch, London. The UK has a big zombie community and the street in Shoreditch was the perfect creative fit. It is filled with bars, has a farmer’s market on Sunday and is one of the coolest, most hip places in London. The setting and aesthetic also gave us the best ability to make our wall feel natural, almost like it was a guerilla stunt some artists had done overnight. 

LBB> Was the interactive nature of the heads an important aspect? If so, why? And how did you decide on a method of including an interactive element?

Zach> Interactivity is the most important element. The idea started out as just an OOH board that people could take pictures with, but then we soon realized that we needed so much more than that to create a viral fun video. People love seeing other people get scared, it is a major part of the Halloween holiday season, so we purposely designed the wall so that each head flanking the middle would draw people in so that we could then scare them with the middle head or squirt them with the one on the far right. 

LBB> Sending care packages to influencers is something that Activision has done a lot for Call of Duty launches, especially with Zombies content creators like NoahJ456 and MrDalekJD who were involved in this campaign. Did you create the idea to send zombie heads to influencers, and did Activision’s previous work influence this aspect of the campaign? 

Zach> Care packages have always been a part of Activison’s standard marketing plan, but usually, they go unnoticed and don’t get a ton of buzz or attention. It just felt right to us to uplevel that tactic into something that would be way more attention-grabbing than anything else Activision has done previously and build a ton of advocacy with our core fans. So far the reactions have been awesome, things like ‘this is the best thing COD has ever sent me’ and it has resulted in more passionate posts to their fans about the brand. 

It gives us built-in reach and allows our Zombie mode to show up in different verticals of culture. We purposely chose two TikTok pranksters, three YouTube zombie creators, three EMEA content creators and two celebrities so that it felt like our zombie heads were everywhere across audiences and channels. 

LBB> What are the opportunities and challenges that come with creating for a fan-favourite and much-anticipated property like Call of Duty zombies?

Zach> The best thing to us was being authentic to the level of detail and craft that exists within the mode itself. The reason fans love zombies is not only because it is fun, but because of all the little details and clues that go into the mode that they discover along the way. We took that approach when developing the zombie heads and influencer boxes. Each head was meticulously crafted to match the detail of the zombies in the game and then we hid a couple of easter eggs on top of the influencer box itself. 

LBB> So these Easter eggs and hidden stories and theories within the zombies mode were a big influence for the creative?

Zach> Yes definitely. It inspired some of the markings we put on the influencer kits themselves and the engraving on the foreheads of our zombies as that is a new symbol and part of the game. 

LBB> How closely did you work with the production team and the team putting the wall mounts together in London? What was this relationship and experience like?

Zach> We worked incredibly closely and actually sent a small agency crew of three people to be on the ground with them, helping advise on the placement of the heads and some of the smaller details as we were building it. Then on the day, we all operated as one production/agency team helping call cues to scare people and having everyone run down releases so that we could ensure that we could actually use the best moments we captured on set in our film. 

LBB> With a virtual product, like a videogame, is there something especially effective about bringing it into real life for a campaign? 

Zach> Yes, with things that are fantastical and fictional it is always fun to see how people will react when they see them in person. It's not easy to bring video game elements out into the real world with all the craft and detail that needs to go into it, but when you do it's pretty rewarding.

LBB> And why did you choose an IRL interactive experience over a virtual or AR one that could be experienced by more people globally?

Zach> We felt like there was something more fun and talk-worthy about doing it for real, that even if you weren’t there you would enjoy the experience of watching other people get scared by the wall and it would make you smile in a way where you could feel like you were a part of the party. Although AR experiences are great for scale, we didn’t feel like they could truly capture the emotional fun that we have when playing zombies as a gamer. 

LBB> What was the most difficult challenge you experienced on this campaign? And how did you overcome it?

Zach> With any stunt like this where we are out in public, the biggest challenge is getting people to sign releases as soon as a great reaction or shot happens. There is nothing worse than getting awesome and then not being able to use it. So we had PAs and some agency folk stationed off around every exit from the wall to catch people and talk to them about signing. For the most part, pretty much everyone had so much fun that they were thrilled to sign the releases almost immediately and were excited about their potential 15 seconds of fame. 

LBB> Do you have anything else to add about the campaign?

Zach> We all wonder how we’d react when we come face-to-face with a Zombie. Now we know. It’s all fun and games until the dead become undead.

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72andSunny LA, Wed, 03 Nov 2021 16:36:00 GMT