Shadow of the Colossus

By Martin Ramos
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day
Client: Sony Playstation
Category: 2006

What appeared on the surface to be a spectacular archeological discovery was in reality a meticulously orchestrated, real-life puzzle designed for Shadow of the Colossus, a PlayStation videogame. It was an idea that stemmed from Planning’s re-positioning of this adventure videogame as a puzzle videogame. This never-before-used strategic maneuver transformed our audience from passive spectators to active participants, getting them to THINK and TALK BIG about this videogame. Ultimately, helping make this campaign a true global phenomenon and the videogame, a monster hit.

The Context: Create Buzz Around A \"Buzz-less\" Game. In October 2005, Sony PlayStation prepared to launch its new adventure game, Shadow of the Colossus. The problem was, adventure videogames were a dying breed. Not a single game from this genre cracked the top 50 best selling titles. And this game’s predecessor, ICO, had dismal sales.

Our client felt this was, at best, a niche game, and thus gave it a niche budget. With this in mind, PlayStation outlined focused marketing objectives for this videogame: 1. Connect with the hardcore gaming segment. 2. Equal Year 1 sales of Shadow of the Colossus’ predecessor, ICO, of 160,000 units. 3. Make a limited advertising budget go a long way.

In short, our task was monumental ---- create buzz around a “buzz-less” videogame.

Insight About Our Audience: Brains = \"Balls\" To find out what was causing the demise of the adventure genre and find a positioning for PlayStation’s latest adventure videogame Shadow of the Colossus, Planning conducted qualitative research at the Mecca of gaming, the global Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in May 2005.

Through a number of on-the-scene interviews with the truest of hardcore videogamers we discovered that our audience were brainiacs who thought they naturally had the smarts to outplay anyone, any game or any “boss” (enemy). They were quite cocky about their prowess and more so about their achievements. All their actions, even when sharing information and content, were calculated to raise their social currency.

These braggarts were tired of mindless “button-mashing” (repeated videogame controller button pressing over a short period) and felt that adventure videogames were only about senseless hacking and slashing. One remarked, “Button-mashing is for kids. Even a 5-year old can do that.” We were getting a sense that they were hunting for a new breed of videogaming experience, one that demanded them to use their BRAINS as much as their BRAVADO.

That said, the key communications issue was to make Shadow of the Colossus be more than a videogame where you hunt and slay gargantuan monsters. To be relevant to our mental giants, this videogame had to stand for something other than the need to have big balls. Armed with these insights, we were on the path of radically departing from the conventional manner adventure videogames such as this one were advertised.

The Strategic Idea: What You Lack In Size, You Need To Make Up In Smarts. On-the-convention floor discussions with these brash know-it-alls revealed a need to immerse themselves in experiences that were both invigorating and challenging. Because they were hardcore gamers, they were accustomed to the immersive, edge-of-your-seat engagement of videogames and longed to interact as they weren’t content with watching passively.

In order to fuel our mental giants’ need for involvement as well as their braggadocios qualities, we employed a never-before-used line of attack and positioned Shadow of the Colossus as a puzzle videogame rather than an adventure videogame.

Our strategic approach was to view each Colossi as a living, breathing puzzle that needed to be solved instead of merely a huge beast one had to hunt down. This shift in perspective seamlessly fed into the mindset of our audience. Figuring out the weakness of these gigantic creatures would flex their mental strength and, unquestionably, feed their ego.

The Creative Idea: The Biggest Archeological Hoax In History We created our own mythology by organically weaving the gigantic characters of the videogame into a massive and elaborate real-life puzzle that would take people on a journey around the world in search of giants and ultimately lead back to the videogame itself.

Our mythology began to spread when evidence of giants was suddenly being discovered in different corners of the globe. A Giantologist - Eric Belson -- was cataloging it all on his blog at He was the world’s first expert on giants. His mission: to prove that giants exist. But guess what—he’s not real.

We made him up, along with his blog, one year’s worth of backdated entries, five websites, four viral videos, four podcasts, two international phone numbers and countless Internet photos. Using as the central hub for the campaign, we spun a web of fiction within reality that was difficult to crack.

The Connections Strategy: Transform Our Audience From Spectators To Participants. To get our braggarts to THINK and TALK BIG about this videogame, we shunned the one-way nature of traditional broadcast media and instead used the exponential power of word-of-mouth. Each campaign element was designed to encourage our audience to show off their smarts by sharing and creating their own content.

By design, our audience became our messengers in blogs, emails, chatrooms and even their own websites.

As they debated on countless blogs and message boards, we practiced a form of “Advertising Judo,” using the audience’s behavior, momentum and energy to our advantage by adapting and producing new content in real-time to make the campaign more dynamic and unpredictable. For the first time, consumers were real-time participants in a campaign, helping to instantaneously shape its development and evolution.

Results/Indications of Effectiveness: A Monster Hit Giantology created a global phenomenon. • On its first day alone, the Tsunami Giant Video we seeded online was seen more than 1.5 million times. • Over 25 million people from 110 countries have viewed the campaign and it has been discussed and linked to from thousands of websites and forums around the world. • Fictional characters in the campaign were offered book deals, interview requests and research assistance.

Giantology cemented its legacy in culture when it was discussed in Snopes, the definitive source for modern day myths and Internet rumors, and officially listed on Wikipedia, the world’s leading online encyclopedia, as a definition of viral marketing. It was also featured on the world’s most popular late night radio show, Coast to Coast AM and on G4TV, the definitive cable network for videogames.

The campaign was truly interactive and developed a new communications model. We listened to what people were saying and engaged our audience in real-time conversation. We capitalized on the power of word-of-mouth and developed new connections channels that utilized myth-telling and real-time relationship building.

The advertising world has taken notice as well, awarding the campaign with the Yahoo! Big Idea Chair, a One Show Pencil and the Grand Prize at the Beldings. The campaign is also being taught as an example of viral marketing in advertising journals and universities.

Best of all, it continues to connect gamers with Shadow of the Colossus. In just six (6) weeks after retail launch, Shadow of the Colossus sales reached its 12-month volume target of 160,000 units and equaled Year 1 sales of its predecessor, ICO. Cumulative sales have reached 279,303 units in less than four (4) months of retail availability, nearly 50% more than ICO’s Life-to-Date (LTD) sales.