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The method to Madden's ad madness

EA Sports' Anthony Stevenson explains why marketing campaign puts more focus on a violin-playing bear than new game features

Last week, EA Sports posted a three-and-a-half-minute commercial to its YouTube channel. The ad featured a bear emerging from a swimming pool while playing violin, Dave Franco's girlfriend leaving him for another man, JJ Abrams' levels of lens flare abuse, popstar Conway performing in an outlandish silver dress with neon yellow makeup, and Epic Meal Time host Harley Morenstein warning everyone about a house fire. There's also something in there about Madden NFL 15, the game the spot was designed to promote.

"Madden is a franchise that's 26 years old, and that's a little bit of a blessing and a curse."

The actual focus of the ad is a rivalry between Franco and Kevin Hart. With Madden 15 hitting shelves next week, the ad suggests it's time for Franco and Hart to put aside whatever else is going on in their lives and throw down for a few games of the long-running football sim. If it seems like a departure from EA's normal playbook for selling the series, EA Sports VP of global marketing and brand Anthony Stevenson told that's because it is.

"Madden is a franchise that's 26 years old, and that's a little bit of a blessing and a curse," Stevenson said. "It's a blessing because we probably have one of the most passionate fanbases in the entire video game industry, and they've been on this journey with us for the past two decades, almost three decades. The curse side of it is that our fans have been around for a while, and there's a whole younger generation. We think of them as digital natives; these are people who have grown up with everything from iTunes to Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter. That's what they're used to. For a franchise that's 26 years old to appeal to that audience while still pleasing our core that's grown up with us is really a challenge."

Stevenson said this is the first year the company has focused its efforts on bringing that new generation into the game. And since those digital natives live online, that's where the campaign is. Stevenson called last week's spot "the heartbeat" of this year's Madden Season campaign. It will be cut up and shortened to 30-second clips that will air on TV, but the goal is to drive people to watch the clip online, "where the real campaign is."

"If you can get people to talk about your brand, to talk about your product in a positive way, ultimately that's what's going to lead to sales."

As for how EA Sports is specifically targeting a younger crowd, it has a few approaches. For one, there's the talent used in the ad. Stevenson said EA polled consumers after last year's Madden campaign to ask them what celebrities they'd like to see involved with the brand; Hart was "universally" popular with that younger audience. There's also a new class of celebrity for that crowd in the form of YouTube personalities, which explains why EA brought in Morenstein, who is best known for creating videos documenting the creation of absurdly high-calorie meals. The focus on youth even applied to the featured athletes in the spot, focusing solely on players age 26 or younger, like Colin Kaepernick, Richard Sherman, and LeSean McCoy. One thing you won't see in the spot is any sort of emphasis on new features.

"You're not going to attract a new audience with a feature," Stevenson said. "You're going to attract a new audience by catering to what they're passionate about, which in this case is football, competition, and the celebrity talent they like that are in the creative... The goal with TV and digital is we want to get a new audience who's not going to be attracted by 'Hey, we've got a brand new way to do playcalling.' That's not going to appeal to them. What we're trying to do is make them reconsider Madden, as, 'Hey, Madden's a cool brand. They get it. I love to compete, so this might be something for me.'"

The thinking is that the audience that cares about the new features, the core crowd who buys the game year after year, already knows what's going to be new in the game because they've been following every bit of information dripped out through EA's social media channels. And if the result is that the advertising campaign seems less representative of the end product, that's fine with Stevenson. In some ways, selling people on the product's strengths has become less important for him than sparking a conversation.

"If you can get people to talk about your brand, to talk about your product in a positive way, ultimately that's what's going to lead to sales," Stevenson said.

"You put out something that's share-worthy and you let your audience basically become brand evangelists."

He pointed to the Madden 15 Facebook page as an example. A lot of the posts made to that feed may just be asking fans who they expect to win in an upcoming Monday Night Football game.

"That says nothing about the game," Stevenson said. "Nothing at all. We're not even talking about Madden, necessarily. But it's on the Madden platform and we're facilitating conversations amongst people with common interests. And if you can do that, that's going to lead people to want to go learn more about the game. You don't have to force feed it to them."

The key when trying to reach those digital natives, Stevenson said, is to create share-worthy content.

"There's a lot of noise out there, a lot of brands putting out different pieces of creative, and the stuff that's really going to bubble up and rises up, especially with this particular target, is something that's share-worthy," Stevenson said, adding, "We're a week or so away from launch and now we have to make sure the whole world knows. And how do you do that? You put out something that's share-worthy and you let your audience basically become brand evangelists. They become a louder bullhorn than anything you could put on TV, or any amount of money you could put behind something on TV."

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Latest comments (10)

Benn Achilleas CEO and Founder, Playabl7 years ago
OMG... Madden is 26 years old?! I still remember playing the first edition on my Genesis/ Mega Drive. Was that really 26 years ago?! Holy crap I feel old now.
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Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance7 years ago
@Barrie, how dare you disparage American football. Unless your reference point is either Rugby or Aussie Rules Football, that is totally unfair. Especially if your reference point is soccer. (it's a good thing there is no downvoting on this site)

Having properly defended the most popular sport in my country, I have mixed feelings about this ad. It was certainly entertaining, but the fact that it shows little to nothing about the game and is targeting "tweens" speaks volumes about EA's opinion of the average Madden purchaser. Not that any of the majority of purchasers of this franchise care what we think - they're probably the least likely to read game journalism of all video games fans.

I'm starting to think they should change the name, though. Madden hasn't been in a Madden game for a WHILE.
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James Brightman Editor, North America, GamesIndustry.biz7 years ago
Steve, can't tell if you're being sarcastic, but if not, let it be - Barrie can disparage the sport, that's his right. I love baseball, and people disparage it all the time, no big deal.
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Show all comments (10)
Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 7 years ago
"For another year, we sell you the same game you bought last year, the year before that, and the decade before that. But you suckers keep buying it for $60 a year, so who cares?"

Honestly, like Coca Cola, ehy there've bother advertising it is really beyond me. I'd love to see where ubiquitous, until label brands stop advertising for a year, I think the end results will be fascinating.
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Owen Hughes Digital and Relationship Marketing Manager, Ubisoft7 years ago
@Benn - Two years before the Genesis version, Madden debuted on Apple/Commodore systems. So yeah, you're old... but not quite as old as you thought!
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
To be fair (and I generally dislike sports games), this year's Madden actually made me smile because of that kooky tutorial camp (an enhanced version of the one in the 2003 game, i believe) that's a bunch of mini-games that teach you how to play while tossing basic to advanced football concepts at you. It's made for the new players, but has a lot of challenge for vets as well thanks to the randomness.

Granted, I'm betting the core Madden player skips that and goes straight to his or her usual routine of crushing anyone who picks up a controller. But if a newbie wants to dive into that other mode just to finally learn how to play the game, it's pretty cool to see this. Of course, EA could and should have gotten that mode out as a PC and Vita download a few weeks before the game shipped so those who owned that handheld could get some practice time in beforehand (but that's how I think when I see stuff in a game I like - how to get it to MORE people and not just the core audience)...
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Julien Carron Sr. Associate Producer, Ubisoft Singapore7 years ago
"Dave Franco's girlfriend leaving him for another man"
That man is NBA Star Damien Lillard
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I agree about Madden being like Coca Cola, they should put the advertising budget towards better AI programming. Been 25 years and the pass AI still seems random and poorly done.
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Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance7 years ago
In the future, I will include #SARCASM in my sarcastic comments, to avoid confusion.

For what it's worth, I am not a fan of football. Mostly because I grew up in Tampa.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Steve Wetz on 21st August 2014 4:22pm

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 7 years ago
Try growing up in Philly, where if you don't like football or the Iggles, they throw batteries at you, and not just the Cowboys
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