Call of Duty: World War II and the New Marketing Frontline


On April 26th Call of Duty: WWII staged a live-streamed event in London, complete with hundreds of fans, star guests and huge social coverage… to launch… a new trailer.

Next month I will be talking at the PromaxBDA conference in Los Angeles about the future of promos. Since first joining the industry in 1994, the shape and structure of television programme launch campaigns has remained remarkably consistent, perhaps bizarrely so given the upheaval the wider industry has been through in that time period.  Perhaps astonishingly so given the fundamental changes in access to content through social and digital channels. 

In 2017 however big changes are finally emerging, and Call of Duty: WWII is an exemplar of many of them.  


Call of Duty: WWII launched a bespoke teaser specifically to announce the date of the main trailer launch. Receding waves dragging over the sand of what fans guessed were the beaches of Normandy to unveil the date and time of the launch event.

Simultaneous careful leaks of key art, font choice and casting decisions ensured months of fan speculation over the smallest shreds of evidence.

All of this points to the central tenet of my speech to the PromaxBDA community:

We are now in an era where the tease needs to be replaced by the reveal.

In an era of 500 scripted shows launching per year in the US alone, for any TV title to become a breakout hit requires new forms of campaigning including; influencer content, tactical “momentum mapping” against cultural events and the use of “live spikes”.


The days of linear television marketing where the scheduling of a programme remained the final weapon in the channel’s tactical armoury, held as a closely guarded secret until press day, feel very outmoded now. Netflix and Amazon aren’t interested in the threat of counter scheduling, and their bold date announcement trailers nine to 12 months ahead of release create the sense of event that was once the preserve of theatrical movies.

The entire CoD event was itself really to herald the Nov 3rd launch date – eight months ahead.  


It is no surprise that CoDWWII used a live streamed moment to preview their main trailer. Live video is critical both in terms of social media’s new algorithms, and also the proven metric levels of viewer engagement.

In many ways the actual trailer for the game was hugely conventional – displaying most of the tropes familiar in game and movie marketing.

Slow mo action, fades to black, an operatic aria providing a juxtaposition to the carnage... a dialogue driven third act… but the trailer launch was merely the start of a 90 minute stream Q&A in which audience questions, talent interviews and future date announcements all played a part. Like many thousands, I watched it streamed live by a game vlogger with his commentary adding another level of engagement.


CoDWWII held back many facets, perhaps tactically, perhaps making a virtue of what was ready. So “Nazi Zombies” were mentioned but not in gameplay, Online Multiplayer was trailed to be shown at the E3 convention in June.

Transformers star Josh Duhamel was revealed as the lead character (though once again tactical leaking of him in full mo-cap suit, the day before he followed CoD on Twitter, was a big hint to fans weeks earlier). With Transformers: The Last Knight scheduled for release in late June, it would be a dead cert that CoD will have plans to ride that cultural peak too.


One form of marketing interaction that is open to gaming companies, but not their television counterparts, is early access beta testing.  But TV can still demonstrate its own forms of fan commitment with engaging video preview stunts, like the one we did for Fox Networks Group’s Outcast launch.

Overall, while we learnt that the CoD franchise was going back in time to its own World War II roots, the marketing campaign is demonstrating a commitment to many of the future disciplines that need to become the gold standard of television marketing. 

Charlie Mawer
Executive Creative Director