Advertising campaigns usually involve a corporate client trying to reach consumers, but one marketing agency is looking to flip that upside down to help gamers reach Half-Life developer Valve … and the details seem a little frightening.
A pair of interns at the New Mexico-based ad agency McKee Wallwork & Co. have a crazy idea. They started a crowdfunding project on the website Indiegogo to raise money to help it lobby Valve to make and release a new Half-Life shooter game. The franchise’s previous games are some of the most beloved in the history of the medium, and fans have long begged the publisher to make the next one. McKee Wallwork is now monetizing those fan desires in a new kind of reverse marketing campaign that no one has ever really tried before.
The McKee Wallwork interns, Chris Salem and Kyle Mazzei, are asking for $150,000. The campaign has only raised around $20 of that total so far. To help awareness, the company sent out a release earlier today to press outlets — and here’s where things get a bit strange. The release uses some language that Valve employees might find uncomfortable.
“Indiegogo campaign to engulf Valve employee’s lives,” reads the headline on the press release.
“We realized that us, as Half-Life fans, have never truly shown a united front,” Salem said in a canned quote. “Maybe, just maybe, a little concentrated effort might finally get us what we want.”
We’ve contacted Valve for a response to this campaign, and we’ll update this post with any new information.
At best, the McKee Wallwork proposal comes across as a bit entitled with the suggestion that Valve owes fans Half-Life 3. At worst, the promise to engulf Valve employee’s lives over a video game seems potentially hostile.
We contacted Salem and Mazzei to get more details and to see what they had to say about concerns that some people may construe their campaign as well-funded harassment. In our conversation, we started with the details of what a fully funded campaign will look like.
“There’s four main things that we want to do with the money,” Salem told GamesBeat. “No. 1 is our lowest goal, at around $3,000, we want to do a Google AdWords campaign.”
AdWords enables people to put advertisements along searches for particular terms on Google. Salem and Mazzei want to do that, but they want to particularly target people who work at Valve.
“So any time someone at Valve would Google for ‘Half-Life 3’ or [Valve chief executive officer] ‘Gabe Newell,’ they’ll see an AdWords spot on the side that says something like ‘your community is uniting,'” said Salem. “And it would have a link back to our Indiegogo.”
The second thing the McKee Wallwork interns want to do is rent a vehicle-mounted billboard.
“We would plaster it with some type of message like ‘We want Half-Life 3!’ and then have it drive around Valve headquarters for a whole day,” said Salem. “Just to get into their face.”
Idea No. 3 is to hire around 15 Gabe Newell lookalikes.
“We’d have them hang around Valve headquarters for a whole day,” Salem explained.
To cap everything off, the ad interns want to hold a concert to celebrate Valve and the fans that supported the campaign. Musical acts could even include one of Salem and Mazzei’s bosses, who is a fan of Half-Life and made music related to the game in the past.
“We would invite Gabe Newell and their whole crew so they could see how bad the fans want this,” said Salem.
“It would really be a ‘thank you’ to the fans themselves,” said Mazzei. “After we accomplished such a feat, we would want to give back to everyone who contributed.”
If this all sounds like a new idea, that’s it may be. Salem and Mazzei said they researched and couldn’t find any evidence of other agencies trying to get money from fans to sponsor a lobbying campaign aimed at a company.
On the potential for harassment
A campaign paid for by demanding video game fans sounds like it could get out of hand, and so we asked Salem and Mazzei about the potential for that.
“Obviously, lines like [engulf people’s lives] is a little sensationalized to get people’s attention,” said Salem. “But we think we’re doing everything in a good-hearted way. We aren’t going to have people camped out in front of Valve headquarters for weeks at a time. It’s just going to be a one-day thing.”
“We originally we did acknowledge that their is going to be skepticism because it is such a new idea,” said Mazzei. “But we think the goals are something that Valve can laugh at.”
We asked if anyone from McKee Wallwork had tried asking Valve about this campaign, but they have not made an effort to talk to the developer.
“It’s not like we’re really going to stalk them,” said Mazzei. “We’re claiming to stalk them, but everything we’re doing is in a very friendly manner.”
With only $5 raised so far, the concerns surrounding an overzealous community are only hypothetical at this point. But developers have experienced harassment from gamers before, and language like “stalk” might be scary enough to make Valve waste no time calling security.
“I think that if we were able to gain the traction with the community, we’d be able to communicate to fans exactly what we’re doing,” said Mazzei. “If they are contributing to this campaign, they aren’t going to want to scare Valve. And I think we’d be able to settle them down if it gets to that point.”
“We would just be solid with our communication,” said Salem. “These Valve employees have jobs. They have responsibilities where they work. Let’s just do it on these days where we are achieving a goal. The days where we have the Gabe Newell lookalikes there. We need them to make the game, so let’s not actually stalk them.”
Salem and Mazzei both are convinced that Valve will recognize the crowdfunding campaign as a lighthearted gesture. We asked them if they had been following the threats that developers are getting over issues like GamerGate and the ending of Mass Effect 3, and the ad interns don’t believe their campaign is at risk of falling into a similar trap.
The two men also confirmed that their bosses at McKee Wallwork are fully on board with the Half-Life 3 campaign.
But as new as the idea is, it’s difficult to imagine it doing much to convince Valve to do anything it doesn’t want to do.