It's a common refrain in certain circles—that today it's only the quality of content that matters, not whether it comes from an entertainment production company, a news organization, or a brand. The bottom line is whether it's worth a viewer's time. Brands continue to push the boundaries of the types and scope of content they're willing and able to produce, and a new documentary series by Activision and Vice is the latest example.
The latest game in the record-breaking franchise is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, in which Kevin Spacey makes an appearance as a power-hungry head of a private military contract firm. To help market and set the context for the game, Activision and agency 72andSunny teamed with Vice on a short documentary called Super Power for Hire, to be followed by a more in-depth, longer version later in May.
The short film features interviews with Blackwater founder Erik Prince and The New York Times' national security correspondent David Sanger, among many others. While the Call of Duty tie-in is explicit—supers at the beginning and end of the video refer to the game and the CoD logo appears throughout—the piece plays very much like any of Vice's gritty docs. This isn't the first time Vice has produced content around a major video game release, but it's certainly one of the most grim subjects covered under a brand's name. And the line between news content and advertising is too fine for some. Sanger has already said he was unaware of the Call of Duty tie-in when he was brought on board by Vice to appear in what he apparently thought was a straight-up documentary.
72andSunny creative directors Josh Fell and Rey Andrade say the idea is to provoke the Call of Duty audience with a reality that few of them knew existed while simultaneously grounding the game in reality. In an email, Fell and Andrade say they did consider that such a serious story could potentially be diluted coming from a brand as part of an ad campaign.
"That was certainly something we thought about," write Fell and Andrade. "We definitely wanted to tell this story in a way that was as credible and authentic as it was compelling and captivating. It's why we went and talked with legitimate heavy hitters in the industry like Simon Mann and Erik Prince. It's also one of the reasons we called on Vice to do what they do best—hard-hitting and raw embedded journalism. Their tone absolutely resonates with the Call of Duty audience. That's all we asked for—apart from tying it into the premise of the game—just tell the story and let the insanity of the reality speak for itself."