While Barbie’s enchanting and spellbound pink backdrops captured the imagination of viewers worldwide, Activision Blizzard tapped into a darker culture to gain some momentum—and with a little bit of celebrity marketing, they exceeded all expectations when the game became the company’s fastest-selling of all time.
Securing a £483 million sell-through in just under a week, it has already become America’s third best-selling video game of 2023 so far. To achieve these figures, the Fortune 500 gaming company had to pull out all the stops and go beyond what was generally expected in the gaming industry. The purpose, according to Rod Fergusson, the General Manager of Diablo IV, was to make the game a part of conversations that would not necessarily be talking about video games.
Here is how Blizzard created a storm around the video game that led to more than 700 million hours of playtime within the first month of its release—and maybe you can pick up some tips for your next campaign.
Star-studded promotions and campaigns
Laying out its marketing plan for the game was not just about traditional marketing. The company went beyond just releasing a trailer—which in this case was directed by Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao—they relied heavily on the star power of Hollywood A-listers like Megan Fox and Chloë Grace Moretz.
Megan Fox, who is no stranger to a darker aesthetic, featured in a 20-second video on the Diablo Twitter page, where she enticed players to send in videos of their in-game deaths with #DiabloDeaths for a chance to have their eulogies read by none other than the ‘Jennifer’s Body’ actress.
They also leaned into more celebrity marketing with Chloë Grace Moretz from ‘Carrie’ fame as she took part in a Diablo Dungeon Crawl episode, where audiences got a first-hand account of the gameplay from a fellow gamer.
Blizzard even tapped into the K-pop frenzy as they enlisted the musical talents of Suga from BTS to create a remix version of Halsey’s ‘Lilith’ which was shot in a deconsecrated cathedral complete with a baroque-style mural inspired by Diablo IV.
Social media stunts
To complement their celebrity marketing efforts, the company also used their social media prowess to promote the Diablo IV Demon ‘Meat’ Shake in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Named the ‘Butcher’s Special’, which was inspired by a returning character, it left consumers with a ‘texturally revolting’ shake, which in hindsight was the point of the marketing exercise.
Partnerships with global giants
Activision Blizzard realised that serious gamers also have an affinity for fast food. With this in mind, they partnered with one of the world’s largest franchises—KFC.
To spread the hype about the game, the gaming company announced that they would grant beta access to Diablo IV to anyone who purchased a Double Down.
While the figures on how much buzz this campaign generated have not been revealed, we can only assume that it was a success considering a similar food-based campaign has been launched.
But, back to the celebrity marketing
True to its Titanic-like marketing efforts, Activision Blizzard threw a launch party at a Los Angeles church, which included Lilith—a central character in the Diablo IV games—flying from the ceiling before the world-famous DJ Zedd showed up to kick off the night.
Even though this was by all accounts a publicity stunt, it was one that further solidified the interest that Hollywood has in the gaming industry and the power of celebrity-led marketing campaigns. If that is not enough, the developers of the game also invited social media influencers to a themed scavenger hunt which was hosted at the Paramour Estate in Los Angeles.
How Blizzard’s marketing campaign worked and how yours can too
Very often, we have been told that less is more, but in this case, the gaming company showed that more can also be more.
Their philosophy was to go so big that they could not possibly fail, and in the end, it paid off because they gained so much momentum that there was no way but up. Similar to many marketing campaigns, Diablo IV faced the same challenges because they were not simply competing with other video games, they were going up against saturated social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube.
In what is being described as the ‘attention economy’, brands today are fighting to bring their products and services to the forefront and are in a brutal war every day.
If there is one lesson that brands can derive from this it is that they need to take risks and try different things. While having a marketing strategy with 10 different things may sound a bit too much, that is exactly what Blizzard did. The more things you implement, the better your chances are that some will do exceedingly well.
It’s time to plunge into unchartered waters
Jumping into celebrity marketing is not an option for most brands out there who work on limited budgets and resources, but the key takeaway here is not celebrity endorsements.
Businesses simply need to keep an open mind and not be afraid to step out of their comfort zones. For instance, if you have been relying solely on social media marketing but abandoned other marketing campaigns like influencer marketing, then perhaps it is time to take the plunge into uncharted territories.