The mystery behind Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s marketing

The mystery behind Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s marketing
As far as Cold War Russia and United States are concerned, we're all pawns in their game.

Treyarch, Raven Studios to head Cold-War themed Call of Duty

It’s no secret that the Call of Duty formula is a yearly staple, with at least one new title in the franchise releasing every year since 2005’s Call of Duty 2. Typically, there would’ve been some sort of major announcement or marketing push by the spring and summer seasons. But Activision has been suspiciously low-key this year, opting to hide info within Warzone and parcel out secret clues to various influencers.

Activision knows how to tease fans just enough to get their mouths watering, but not so much that they show their hand too early. Humans are naturally curious, and Activision exploits this by encouraging discussion and cooperation amongst community members. Only by pooling together what little information they have can the community have any hope of piecing together the mystery behind Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Almost every single entry in the Call of Duty franchise has launched sometime in the fall, most of them in November, yet Activision has refused to divulge too much too soon – at least not directly. The philosophy behind Activision’s Alternate Reality Game (ARG) marketing is two-fold: firstly, it generates investigation and intrigue through deliberate silence and incomplete information; second, it thematically coincides with the game’s Cold War setting.

The interim period between the end of World War II and the dissolving of the Soviet Union was infamous for its high tension, rampant spying, and the constant threat of global thermo-nuclear war at a moment’s notice. Proxy wars, extra-judicial killings, and good old fashioned human intelligence were only a few tools the world’s major powers used at their disposal. Communication was relegated to dead-drops, hidden signals, coded language, and cryptographic messages.

And it’s mostly this meticulously hidden form of communication that Activision is focusing on – relying on the ingenuity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills of fans. Many in the community were shipped massive crates filled with vintage slide projectors. These slides featured maps, ciphers, satellite images, and cryptographs – with different community members receiving different slides.

When put together, the clues eventually led players to a hidden bunker in Warzone, which contained what appeared to be a Cold War-era listening post. Inside was a secret URL pointing to pawntakespawn.com/tv, a seemingly benign webpage that features a dark office with an old TV set. On a desk, next to the TV, is a pile of VHS tapes labeled with various dates ranging from the 60’s thorough ’70s, a tape player, a phone, and chess pieces.

When clicked, the VHS tapes play various television recordings and news clippings covering significant events throughout the Cold War. These include speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., congressional hearings about how to deal with the looming Communist threat, riots, and even nuclear weapons testing.

Interspersed between clips are brief, intrusive, flashes of brightly lit numbers. The numbers themselves are most likely references to Treyarch’s original Call of Duty: Black Ops, whose campaign centered was centered around Alex Mason – a brainwashed CIA agent who would periodically undergo hallucinations of similar flashing numbers. These numbers would be transmitted by “Numbers Stations” – shortwave radio stations broadcasting seemingly random strings of numbers thought to be coded messages for spies and sleeper agents.

More information will come in the following weeks, as Activision slowly reveals it’s hand, the closer it approaches the de-facto Call of Duty release window. It isn’t exactly clear if 2020’s Call of Duty is a rework of the original Black Ops, much like how 2019’s Modern Warfare revamped Infinity Ward’s original title from 2007.

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Jose is a left-handed techno-mancer with an affinity for IPAs, big dogs, and black-and-white movies. Rebels are scum, Empire for life.
Gamer Since: 2004
Favorite Genre: RTS
Currently Playing: Wargame: Red Dragon, Battlefield V
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