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Behind the campaign

2016 was a good year of XBox, but what's the story behind the award-winning work, and what will 2017 hold?

Mark Lund is the CEO of McCann Worldgroup UK, who enjoyed a lot of success at Cannes in 2016 with Xbox. Here he walks through the background to a multiple Lion-winning campaign, and suggests the technology developments creatives should be paying attention to in 2017.

created on Wednesday 22 Feb 2017

"In 2015, the Gaming world had a blockbuster of a year."
Mark Lund

MARK LUND: We had a good year in 2016. Our campaign, ‘Survival Billboard’ for Xbox, became the most awarded UK campaign at Cannes Lions last year, and the second most-awarded globally.  

At its core, this was a campaign that targeted a hard-to-reach group, using a combination of innovative media choices and bold creative. 


Xbox realised that subverting traditional advertising tropes was key to their future success, and in 2014 appointed McCann Worldgroup London. A newly formed dedicated Xbox team embarked on the creation of a series of campaigns in Europe, with an aim to push the envelope in the technology and fan engagement space. Collaborating with partners such as Blippar and B-Reel allowed us to create experiences that allowed us to think and behave like fans, not like a business. 

This approach created a timeline of campaigns that took the brand out of its comfort zone. For Xbox’s biggest franchise, Halo, the concept of an Alternative Reality Game (ARG) was redefined by creating a multi-media, cross platform treasure hunting, code braking experience. #HuntTheSignal as part of the award winning #HuntTheTruth Global campaign allowed die-hard fans to see the true scale and drama in anticipation for the launch. The fans were immortalised, aggrandised and celebrated - bringing the brand closer to fan hearts once again.

These integrated, non-traditional fan-centric campaigns started to capture the imagination of the broader public 


In 2015, the Gaming world had a blockbuster of a year, with the launch of high profile titles like FIFA 16, Fallout 4, Call of Duty, Star Wars Battlefront, Assassins Creed and one of the biggest Xbox exclusive titles of the year, Tomb Raider.’ Xbox decided it had to go bold. Faced with the challenge of launching the new Tomb Raider game during the busiest launch weeks in 2015, Xbox and McCann Worldgroup decided to turn the channel on its head and transform a billboard into an entertainment channel: the 'Survival Billboard'.

See the full credits on the Cannes Lions Archive
"Xbox is a brand that understands how to engage with a broader audience."
Mark Lund
The brand subverted the traditional rules of marketing by increasing barriers to entry, aggrandising the fans and extending the product experience instead of just promoting the product. Installed as part poster, part interactive reality show, eight gamers stood on the Survival billboard and faced harsh weather controlled by the public. The winner, Adam, remained on the billboard for 20 hours, 45 minutes.

Xbox is a brand that understands how to engage with a broader audience – with clever technology and channel use, and what made this campaign even more innovative was mirroring the use of innovative technology to really bring it to life. The very latest online technology was used to live stream the Survival Billboard event on banners and on digital sites across the country. 

The event was streamed live on Twitch, a channel normally used for gamers to stream gameplay, where surprising levels of sustained engagement and discussion were observed. A voting mechanism that could be utilised online or via mobile allowed fans to vote and affect the weather being experienced by the fans – all of which was created by the best production companies and technology.

And when other brands start to copy an idea (Sony Playstation mounted a Jeep Wrangler on a billboard in Times Square), something must be right. The campaign has received almost 130 awards to date, including 16 Lions (6 Golds) including Outdoor, Integrated, Media, Direct and Entertainment. 


Integration across agency partners and disciplines was key to the strategy, creation, and delivery of this campaign. In addition to turning a static, traditional advertising channel into a reality show, we secured awareness and engagement for the brand across print, outdoor, broadcast media and interactive media. 

A seamless digital experience was built for online where the event was broadcast live, and on mobile. The voting system was engineered bespoke for the campaign and drove incredible interaction. 


Signing off a campaign that actively recruits fans to torture them is not an industry norm. For marketers like Adrian Simons, Xbox EMEA Brand Director at Microsoft, Michael Flatt, Global Integrated Marketing & Gaming Lead at Microsoft, and Amanda Farr Head of Xbox Content and Services, this was bold and risky. 

However, this shift in approach seems to have endured in the following months with the Billboard campaign in particular being held up as the standard for all campaigns across the business, regardless of discipline. This reflects the thirst and push for firsts and innovation that chimes with Xbox (and Microsoft’s overall) core values. In the last year alone, Microsoft has broken the fourth wall in cinema by producing the first ever commercial in the UK to use 4DX technology. 

But what lies ahead – what will drive creative success in 2017?
"Cannes 2017 is fast approaching and to win big this year, brands – especially tech brands - need to push the boundaries of how they communicate with their consumers."
Mark Lund
Cannes 2017 is fast approaching and to win big this year, brands – especially tech brands - need to push the boundaries of how they communicate with their consumers.  Recent examples of brands doing this include: 

Samsung sponsored an international choir to sing festive songs every evening in central London to push its Gear S3 smartwatch during Christmas. Singing every evening in the run-up the Christmas, the choirs performed festive songs from their home countries including Cuba, China and India. The choirs work the Samsung smartwatch, which monitored their heartbeats and calories burnt. The biometric data displayed as data visualisation on eight giant screens built into the stage.

Google unveiled a Christmas animation by the studio behind Wallace and Gromit as part of its drive to bring 360° video to a wider audience through the use of interactive stories. Posting a four-minute-long animated film on YouTube that follows Santa Claus trying to make his deliveries without being caught by a nosy caretaker, they allowed users watching on Android devices to move around the video and even trigger events or unlock characters – with multiple sub-plots. 

I'll leave you with some interesting trends which I think are likely to drive creative and ground-breaking work in 2017...

#1: Experiential is everything

Work with an experiential element – i.e. work that draws consumers into an active experience rather than just a passive reflection - will do very well at this year’s festival. Society as a whole (not just Gen Y) is now spending proportionately more on experiences, wanting to be more in the moment. As we spend less money on products, experiential experiences can be the best way to get consumers invested, immersed and engaged with the actual merchandise and help to drive brand awareness and sales. 

#2: Uniting the nation

Any work that aims to brings together generations will make waves. With a post- Brexit and Trump society dividing families, societies, religions and races, ‘open’ and ‘closed’ attitudes are not appealing. Brands that can unite different groups will reap the benefit of being seen as constructive healers.

#3: Remind us of what’s important

Work that truly resonates will find a way of making the non-elite experience of life aspirational. Our global CEO Harris Diamond said, “we need to find a way of making the life that most people experience more aspirational – particularly given they have reacted against a big-city view of the world”. Being proud of your heritage, making the mundane fun and the small actions, big, will give a sense of power back to the people. 

#4: Entertain us during tough times

This is going to be the year of LaLa Land in Hollywood and its magical realism take on life and romance – complete with spontaneous song and dance will have a big effect on the cultural context. In addition Hamilton is the new musical obsession and ticket of the year. A Pulitzer-prize winning hip-hop musical about the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton and the American revolution– a great example of the renaissance of a traditional medium – entering mainstream culture and politics with lessons for all of us in the ‘entertainment’ business. 

It will be fascinating to see these manifest themselves in the creative successes of this year.

This article was contributed to Cannes Lions Stories by Mark Lund, CEO of McCann Worldgroup UK. Xbox 'Survival Billboard' took home 16 Lions, including five Gold Lions in Direct, Media, Entertainment and Outdoor. Browse more work from McCann or Xbox in the Cannes Lions Archive

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