2022 represents a significant year for the popular tabletop title, ‘Magic: The Gathering’. Marking the card game’s 30th anniversary, publishers Wizards of the Coast have gone all out in their attempts to celebrate, including the release of new promotional cards, a planned ‘Secret Lair’ commemorative card drop, and an upcoming birthday celebration in Las Vegas.
Despite all the cause for fun, however, Wizards of the Coast did not want to be one-dimensional in their marketing approach. For this reason, they partnered with the Razorfish team at Publicis Canada to launch a sombre piece of work - celebrating the life and death of iconic ‘Magic: The Gathering’ character Jaya Ballard. By releasing obituaries into the announcement sections of several American newspapers - the first of which was discovered in the Seattle Times on August 24th - readers were invited to visit a microsite which provided details of Jaya's passing, and asked them to pay their respects with a rose.
This integrated experience proved successful. Within the first 24 hours, the campaign blew up on social media, with the microsite receiving 20,000 unique visits and an estimated 2.4 million organic social impressions.
LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with the teams from Razorfish and Wizards of the Coast to find out how this campaign was brought to life.
LBB> The obvious point of discussion would be releasing an obituary for an in-game character (Jaya Ballard). Tell us more about that. How did this idea come about?
Razorfish> The idea came from putting ourselves in the shoes of ‘Magic: The Gathering’ fans. Jaya is a beloved character that fans have built a real connection with throughout her time in the franchise, and we wanted to acknowledge that relationship in the most real way possible. By creating an obituary-style announcement for her death, it gave us the opportunity to pay tribute to her, and to the fans.
Wizards of the Coast> Jaya Ballard has been a part of ‘Magic: The Gathering’ for 28 of its 30 years, so we couldn’t just let her go. We knew fans would mourn with us, and with the characters in the game. We knew we wanted to create a moment alongside something physical that they could hold on to. From there, we thought of real-world connections we could forge, and an obituary just felt fitting.
LBB> Building on this, who was Jaya Ballard? What made her so iconic, and her death so significant?
Wizards of the Coast> In the 28 years that Jaya Ballard has been around, fans have watched her grow from a young, reckless task mage making trouble for those around her, to a wise mentor - also still making trouble for those around her. She really grew up alongside many of our fans.
LBB> What were your main aims and ambitions with this project?
Wizards of the Coast> We wanted an out-of-the-box marketing idea with the potential for something to go viral, while still being respectful to the fans who would certainly be mourning a character they loved.
LBB> Driving an integrated experience such as this must be a fairly unique experience. Where did you start when bringing it to life, and how did the experience of running this compare to a more traditional advertising campaign?
Razorfish> Our team worked collaboratively with Wizards of the Coast to build this experience from end-to-end. We knew there needed to be multiple integration points across digital and physical channels, with the goal of driving users to e-commerce. What made this experience different was that we wanted it to be discovered organically by fans, instead of announcing it like we would with a traditional advertising campaign.
LBB> Why was a non-traditional campaign like this right for your brand?
Wizards of the Coast> ‘Secret Lair’ celebrates everything fans love about ‘Magic: The Gathering’. With each drop, we put a brand-new spin on both favourite and entirely new cards to surprise and delight fans. Every drop is different, and every drop gets individualised treatments that mesh with the content. And with the ‘In Memoriam: Jaya Ballard’ drop, we felt there was a unique opportunity to engage fans in an unexpected - yet fitting - way.
LBB> How did you go about getting the obituaries into the right papers, at the right time? Did this lead to any interesting conversations with confused journalists? And how did you decide which papers would receive the obituaries?
Razorfish> Working with the Wizards of the Coast team, we identified the top US locations based on sales, and contacted newspapers in the corresponding cities. We reached out well in advance to organise the placements on the day Jaya’s death would be announced. They were all very collaborative and willing. However, one large paper initially thought it was a joke and refused to print it.
LBB> According to the press release, only 24 hours after the obituary was shared on Reddit, the microsite had reached 20,000 unique visits with an estimated 2.4 million organic social impressions. What are those numbers looking like right now? And did you expect such an overwhelming response?
Razorfish> A few days following launch, we’ve received upwards of 30,000 unique visits with more than 3.3 million organic impressions. We wanted this experience to be for the most loyal fans – but it’s extended well beyond that. The community reception has been incredible.
LBB> Were there any unique or memorable reactions from the public when this campaign dropped? And if so, please tell us about them!
> The community truly embraced the experience beyond what we thought was possible. (Click these tweets
In addition, people also posted in ‘Magic: The Gathering’ Facebook fan groups offering money to get their hands on physical copies of the newspapers. The fan dedication was truly surreal.
Wizards of the Coast> The fan reaction was fantastic! We didn’t promote it at first, so watching it grow organically as people found it was a treat. We don’t do many of these types of non-promoted events in the real world, so we were admittedly nervous if our fans would find it, and if they would think it was cool when they did. But when it started to trickle out here, fans were tickled.
LBB> The discrete obituaries and microsite have now turned into a global easter egg hunt with thousands of participants. How did this goal impact your design process? What went into bringing the microsite to life?
Razorfish> We wanted to make sure that the microsite experience was an appropriate payoff for the fans who discovered the Easter egg. The newspaper ad was the clue, and the site was the reward for those who found it. We also included nods to online culture - like allowing website users to press ‘F’ on their keyboards to pay respect. We made sure every detail was accurate to the ‘Magic: The Gathering’ storyline, respectful to Jaya’s memory, and ultimately, a cool experience for fans that connected back to sales channels to complete the experience.
LBB> This campaign is part of the 30th anniversary for ‘Magic The Gathering’. Is there more stuff coming down the pipeline for the Razorfish/Wizards of the Coast collaboration?
Razorfish> Stay tuned later this year for future marketing activations.
LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?
Razorfish> The biggest challenge with an experience-driven campaign like this is predicting the community response and relying on them to embrace an unconventional idea. We relied on the team at Wizards of the Coast to lean into their audience and custom-built an experience that we knew fans would love.
Wizards of the Coast> Figuring out where and how to seed the ad so that it would be seen by players and fans, and then nervously biting our fingers as we waited to see when it would be spotted. Our age demographic isn’t exactly looking for obituaries on a regular basis, so there was a bit of a leap of faith on our part that it would get found. But, we knew all it would take would be one fan to find it and think it was enjoyable for it to go wider.
LBB> How has the perception of your brand changed since you launched this campaign?
Wizards of the Coast> ‘Secret Lair
’ has largely been focused on light-hearted fun and collectibles. Seeing that we can pivot to provide an emotional punch while doing something that feels natural has broadened what fans believe we’re capable of.
LBB> Is there anything you’d like to add?
Razorfish> We have been so incredibly fortunate to partner with the intelligent, strategic, and dedicated team at Wizards of the Coast. They’ve been supportive, collaborative, and willing to take risks at every step of our journey together. We’ve only been working on the ‘Secret Lair’ brand for six months, and creating a unique experience like this has been the goal. We want to keep raising the bar, and feel like we’ve started to build something that Magic fans can continue to look out for.