NEW YORK -- Chrysler Group's Jeep Brand is taking its launch of a new limited-edition Wrangler to a whole other world -- the virtual world.
The automaker today breaks an estimated $10 million ad campaign for its 2012 Wrangler Call of Duty: MW3 Special Edition vehicle, coinciding with the midnight launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the latest iteration of the wildly popular video game produced by Activision.
This is the second consecutive year Jeep has partnered with Activision on product placement in a video game (it appeared in Call of Duty, Black Ops) but the first time a real-world Jeep edition will be created for a game. The new Wrangler in black or bright silver features Call of Duty: MW3 Special Edition graphics on the front fenders and spare tire-cover. Inside, Call of Duty logos appear on the seats, the dashboard grab handle and floor mats.
For the launch, Jeep will introduce a new tagline: "The toughest vehicle in the world. Any world."
"The breadth of this campaign is what sets it apart," said Kim Adams House, head of Jeep advertising for Chrysler. "When Activision launches one of their games, it's of epic proportion. This is not run of the mill. You don't see this in automotive marketing every day."
The campaign begins today with a 60-second spot from Global Hue, Southfield, Mich., entitled "Any World." The commercial brings to life a scene from the video game, an intense and action-packed chase sequence in which the Jeep is the hero that intertwines in-game footage that aligns with the live action.
Global Hue exec VP-Exec Creative Director Vida Cornelious brought her team to Budapest, Hungary, to recreate visuals from the game in the spot. "We went there to stay true to the core values of the brand," Cornelious said. "One of the important things for us was to reproduce the game exactly as it is depicted. That was the best location to do that."
If that seems extreme, well, so are the hard-core video gamers who play titles such as the Call of Duty series. And if you think most of them are teenagers who aren't even close to being able to afford the manufacturer's suggested retail price of $36,495 for the two-door Call of Duty special edition Wrangler, think again. According to 2011 study done by the Entertainment Software Association, 72 percent of American households play computer or video games and the average age of those players is 37. The ESA says computer and video gaming is a $16 billion industry in this country.
When Call of Duty: Black Ops, the most recent version of the game, was released in November 2010 it sold 4.7 million copies in the first 24 hours and 20 million copies worldwide in the next eight months on store shelves.
But will gamers buy a tricked-out Wrangler with the markings from one of their favorite games?
"Well, a Jeep certainly isn't an impulse purchase. But the extremely hardcore video gamers are a curious bunch," said Brandon Sheffield, editor-in-chief of San Francisco-based Game Developer magazine. "For me, personally, I wouldn't want any video game stuff on my car. But some retailers just mistakenly released (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3) by accident and some people were able to buy it early, and those discs are being resold on Ebay for $1,700. That's $1,700 just to play it a few days earlier than anybody else. So, yeah, I could see some of the video game fans buying one of these new Jeeps just for the markings."
If it appears Jeep brand is taking a risk here, it can afford to. Chrysler has thrown more money at the brand in the last year on its media spending -- $265.3 million in 2010, up 71 percent from 2009 according to the Ad Age Data Center research -- and it's paid off.
Sales of Jeep Wranglers were up 28 percent in the first 10 months of this year compared to the first 10 months of 2010, according to the Automotive News DataCenter, and sales of all Jeep models are up 44 percent compared to the same period last year. The company has spent $185.3 million in measured media on Jeep through August of this year.
"There might be risk involved but I'm sure Chrysler calculated the risk," said Ralph Paglia, automotive marketing expert from Tier 10 Marketing in Washington, D.C. "If you look at what's been going on at Chrysler and look at what [chief marketing officer Olivier Francois] has been doing with Fiat and the J-Lo commercial, and to an extent with Dodge, they're willing to take risks. I think it's a great buy-in. If could be a huge win for them."
"Look, the bottom line is, we don't even know what the upside potential for this brand is yet," Jeep's House said. "We're on a journey here, with a product line that has really been a cornerstone of our success story."
Other elements of the campaign include a three-dimensional print piece that uses a Mylar overlay that merges the "real world" and the world of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3." The print ads will appear in targeted gaming and lifestyle print publications. Jeep's outdoor push will utilize a new technology, backlit "electroluminescent" billboards. Consumers will see a "Toughest Vehicle in the World" version of the ad by day and a "Toughest Vehicle in the World. Any World" version at night.
Social media and events are also on tap. People clicking 'Like' on Jeep's Facebook page and completing an online entry form are registered for a sweepstakes in which one person will win a 2012 Wrangler Call of Duty: MW3 Special Edition.
The company will also host "Camp Tread" experiences at select GameStop locations in New York and Chicago during their "Midnight Warfare" launch events. Inside Camp Tread, field lights, ambient game soundtrack and special effects will transform the stores into a military environment.