Digging Up A Strategy For The Win

By Keir Moreano
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Client: Nintendo
Category: 2012

The Situation It’s July 2011, and things are tense. Nintendo has just posted its first quarterly operating loss in thirty years. In an unprecedented move, they’ve just dropped the price of their handheld 3DS system a staggering 33% to boost sales. Now all eyes are now turned to Holiday 2011 and a small but potent lineup of games up for release. It includes the usual suspects - the Zeldas and Marios - but also a small budget DS game called Fossil Fighters - Champions, sequel to Nintendo’s original 2008 Fossil Fighters.

That’s where this story begins.

The Game While there were some key changes to gameplay and graphics in Fossil Fighters - Champions, the general experience was more or less the same as the original. The player is an archeologist on an imaginary island filled with hundreds of fossilized “Vivosaur” bones. (Vivosaurs are just like dinosaurs except magical powers.) Your character excavates these fossils with a variety of tools, and once you have complete skeletons collected, the bones magically spring to life and a Vivosaur is magically revived. With your newly revived gang of creatures, you then fight against your friends’ Vivosaurs - or the computer’s - in the battle arena as you vie for supremacy, leveling up your creatures as you go. Besides the usual stomping, punching, and tail-slapping, you command your Vivosaurs to shoot fireballs, produce ice storms, and summon wind attacks as you unleash your strength against your foes.

It’s a lot to explain a paragraph, much less a 30-second TV spot.

The Client Brief We’re given a wide target - boys ages 6- to 10-years-old - and asked to communicate three key things about the game. First, talk about the thrill of digging up fossils. Second, touch on the collecting, enhancing, and leveling up your Vivosaurs. And finally, be sure to include the excitement of battling your Vivosaurs in Fossil Stadium. With these things in mind, we’re asked to develop TV and digital assets.

The Problem Nintendo’s brief presented a common problem: talk about too much, to too many people, with too little time. We needed to find focus. Since “pre-tween” boys aren’t participating in social networks and have limited access to the Internet, we knew that television was going to be our primary tool of communication. We had a matter of seconds to say something memorable and enticing between bites of Goldfish crackers and commercial-break-Nerf-Gun-wars. We had to be brutally simple in our messaging with the express goal of getting kids to beg their parents for Fossil Fighters – Champions for the holidays. But how?

Agency Research We conducted informal groups with parents and one-on-one interviews with boys in the target range and quickly learned what logic already inferred – that the gulf between the day-to-day reality of a first and fifth grade boy is enormous. Each pole of our age range had a vastly different relationship with everything from dinosaurs to fantasy play, and even to how they responded to the subject of actual fossilized dinosaur bones.

But as we analyzed our data, a striking pattern appeared among seven-year-old boys that felt like a natural fit for the campaign. Our research uncovered four key facts that led to one big insight. We had found our focus.

• Fact #1. Seven-year-olds are beginning to finally master the reading, writing, and math skills they struggled to grasp in kindergarten and first grade. In their eyes, it’s as if they have new superpowers.

• Fact #2. Armed with these newly honed skills, these boys seek to apply the rules and patterns they learn in school in order to rank, categorize, collect, and index everything in their world. In other words, they are now voracious explorers.

• Fact #3. With a new perspective and information about the world neatly compartmentalized in their brains, the boys tend to think they are stronger and smarter than they really are. They certainly don’t want to be treated like “babies” anymore, especially by their parents, and will often blow up when they feel they have been given the “little kid” treatment. Their early sense of independence is starting to form.

• Fact #4. Yet despite these new feelings of superiority, something sinister is creeping in at the fringes of the average seven-year-old boy’s psyche…fear. It’s a scary world out there, and they are just starting to become aware of it. Maybe they’ve overheard Mom and Dad fighting or seen something on TV they shouldn’t have seen. Whatever it is for them personally, they can’t quite put it all in context yet. And so while they want to appear fearless in public, in private they have feelings of being overwhelmed and paralyzed.

The Target Insight More than anything, seven–year-old boys want to be brave in a world they don’t yet understand.

Enter The Dinosaur In our research, the subject of dinosaurs consistently boiled down to one essential truth: Dinosaurs make kids feel brave. As one child told us, “Dinosaurs are bigger than my parents.” They are not only physically bigger, of course, but they are bigger on an emotional scale too. In our target’s eyes, dinosaurs can do whatever the heck they want. Dinosaurs don’t have to go to bed at bedtime or eat their peas to earn dessert, or follow any of the rules for that matter. Dinosaurs are awesome; they are the aspirational spirit animals of the seven-year-old psyche.

Tying it back to Fossil Fighters Armed with our insight, we boiled the complex game down to just three essential parts: Collect. Revive. Command. And one could make a strong argument for each part of the game to be the primary focus of the marketing: Collecting fossils tied directly into the target’s need to collect and categorize the world around them. Reviving Vivosaurs played to the target’s wild imagination – it is the magic part of the game.

But it was the idea of commanding Vivosaurs into battle where something truly special came into play. It tapped into something universal among the kids we spoke to – the need to feel braver than they really are in an uncertain world, either real or imaginary.

Confident in our direction we sold in a tightly focused strategy to the client, convincing them to let go of several features of the game, and zoom in with us to a narrow target and a single minded emotional call to action.

The Creative Strategy Line Command your own platoon of Vivosaurs and take on the world!

The Work The creative team stayed tightly to the brief and came up with a TV spot they called “Braveheart Jr.” In it, a young boy faces off against an uncertain world. With a little humor and a pack of ferocious dinosaurs at his command, he gets a chance to be brave.

Digitally, we executed an innovative homepage takeover where a user’s cursor was magically transformed into a Vivosaur, and clicking the mouse caused it to belch a fireball, literally “burning the page” in front of the user.

The Results Fossil Fighters – Champions was a smash success, exceeding the client’s 13-week goals and earning the agency kudos.