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College student gets hundreds of cell phone calls due to HALO 3 viral marketing campaign

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Old 07-14-2007
Ricardo De Castro Aquino
 

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College student gets hundreds of cell phone calls due to HALO 3 viral marketing campaign
The first casualty in the newly named "Iris" marketing campaign for
Microsoft's HALO 3 is a college student from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Michael VanderZand, a marketing and advertising major at Grand Rapids
Community College, has received hundreds of phone calls and text messages
on his cell phone since the "alternate reality game" began due to
misinformation that spread like wildfire around the internet last week. Oh
how ironic that this guy is a marketing and advertising major!

Bungie Studio's newest star is "Adjutant Reflex" - the persona of a
mysterious being who has been making cryptic forum posts on Bungie.net's
website. "Adjutant Reflex" is an official part of the Iris marketing
campaign. However, Michael VanderZand's cell phone is not.

As soon as Adjutant Reflex began posting on Bungie's website last Monday,
fans began looking for leads - anything - that would reveal more
information about the persona, the alternate reality game, or HALO 3. It
didn't take long for fans to discover a gamer profile on XBOX.com that had
what looked to be a 10-digit telephone number as its motto. Unfortunately
for Michael VanderZand, the digits resembled his cell phone number. At the
time, many websites (even this one) were full of messages reporting that a
gamertag (now removed from XBOX.com) was linked to Adjutant Reflex's
persona on Bungie.net.

In actuality the 10-digit number in the XBOX.com profile was missing the
last three digits. Those missing digits were replaced with "XXX". This made
the XBOX.com profile even more mysterious - something that fits in well
with the culture of Micrsoft alternate reality games. Fans began dialing
numbers that fit the profile. It made sense. The last HALO alternate
reality game, named I Love Bees, involved phones booths from around the
country.

On Wednesday, after the alternate reality story spread around major
gaming-related websites, a fan discovered a peculiar and static-filled
voice mail recording that fit within those 10-digits in the XBOX.com
profile. It greatly reminded them of the voice messages that were released
during the I Love Bees campaign. To boot, the voice mail recording just
happened to be HALO-related. Michael VanderZand had a voice mail recording
with snippets from a Red vs. Blue episode (Red vs. Blue is a video comic
series filmed inside of the HALO video game). He is a huge fan of that
series.

The signs were leading fans to believe that VanderZand's number was indeed
related to the Iris marketing campaign.

It was Wednesday and VanderZand was in a business ethics class. After class
he checked his cell phone and he had missed dozens of calls. He then began
getting more and more phone calls - all from different area codes.

He began taking some of the calls. Finally Michael spoke with someone who
explained how they obtained his phone number. "I end up telling the story
to a guy in New York City who is on a 3-way conference call with his friend
in California. So the three of us (East coast, West coast, Great Lakes) are
trying to figure this whole thing out." After a chuckle, Michael began to
wrap his head around this whole ordeal.

The calls kept coming. Michael even went online to the websites that were
reporting that the phone number was possibly linked to the alternate
reality game. He posted that the phone number was his and that he was not
related to "Adjutant Reflex" or the HALO 3 marketing campaign.

The internet users didn't listen. The crazed fans ignored his posts and
didn't want to believe that it wasn't true.

VanderZand stayed up late that night wondering what to do. He even called
the XBOX support line hoping they could help. The calls kept coming through
the early morning as he was trying to study for a final exam.

Days after Michael's nightmare began the XBOX.com profile was removed.
However, callers are still finding VanderZand's number thinking they are on
the heels of the next great discovery in the Iris alternate reality game.

Michael was kind enough to allow us to interview him. His step-by-step
account of the time of his phone number being spread around the internet
can be found below. You'll also learn more about Michael and what he does
throughout the day:

Q: What is your name?
A: Michael

Q: What is your cell phone number?
A: ...

(Just kidding.)

Q: Where do you live?
A: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I'm 20 years old. A college student at Grand Rapids Community College
majoring in Marketing and Advertising. I work at Blockbuster part time to
pay for classes. I plan on moving to Seattle in 2 years when I get my
degrees.

Q: So, when did you realize that something was fishy with your cell
phone?
A: It was about 5:30 PM on Wednesday and I was in Holland (about 45 min
out from Grand Rapids) for a business ethics class. I started getting calls
I did not recognize. When I answered there was no reply for most of them.
One caller justsaid "wrong number - sorry." I thought it might be some
friends of mine testing out another online phone dialing site (they've done
that before).

So I turn my phone off for class and when I check it 3 hours later I see
that I missed some 30 calls. Wow! The most calls I've missed in one period
was 28 in 8 hours so this was weird. I also noticed that they were from
some 12 or so different area codes. I went home and called my buddies to
see if they were responsible but they didn't know anything. So I began
answering some of the calls.

After about 5 hang ups (coward shut-ins) I managed to get one of them to
tell me why they called. They directed me to Unfiction.com and a thread
entitled 'the 'Vic' incident'. He told me that my phone number was given on
a gamer tag that people were associating with the new Halo ARG.

This is when I realized that my voicemail was still an old badly recorded
Red vs. Blue clip of Vic's answering machine where he says 'Hey there, Vic,
no solomio, not in the casa right now, etc".

Then people started putting loads of research into my voicemail
recording. They put my answering machine message on Megauploads.com. So
tried cleaning it up so they could hear me and my buddy talking during the
static. I don't think anyone was able to figure out which episode it was
from or riddle out that he was saying 'no solomio'.

So as the guy was explaining this to me I started laughing. So did the
guy that I was on the phone with.

I asked him to post that it is all a big ugly coincidence and he did
while we were on the phone. The problem? People didn't believe the post.
They wanted to believe that my phone number had something to do with the
ARG. Crap. I realized that people wanted to believe this. While on the
phone with that guy, I missed 5 more calls.

So I hang up and answer more calls.

I end up telling the story to a guy in New York City who is on a 3-way
conference call with his friend in California. So the three of us (East
coast, West coast, Great Lakes) are trying to figure this whole thing out.
Then he leads me to digg.com and HushedCasket that had a lot of information
about the ARG.

Meanwhile, I still don't know if this is some joke or if Bungie just
didn't
do its research well enough before releasing this info.

So I get off the phone with these guys and start looking for a number to
call to reach Bungie. The only one I can find is the XBOX customer support
line.

I figured I could call them and they might be able to redirect me to
someone with the ARG or give me a number to call.

Finally I was able to get through to someone at XBOX. The guy on the
other end (it's like 12:30 am at this point) gets a huge kick out of the
story because he plays HALO also. I'm pretty sure I made his night just
with the story. He couldn't help me, though. That's when I decided to try
to post my own responses on these sites.

The easiest was Hushed Casket. Then I looked for the thread on G4 because
that is where one of the guys said he got my number. But I couldn't find it
the original post so I made a new thread under the tag kir_kanos.

Finally I just said "screw it!"

I needed to get to bed. I had to wake up at 6 AM to work on a final and
get to class. Luckily I have an MDA III Pocket PC phone so I just turned
the phone part off and was still able to use the alarm.

But, just before I went to sleep I changed my voicemail - just to screw
with all the idiots that didn't check the posts.

I changed it to another Red vs. Blue clip about players screaming for
information about HALO 3. I don't know how many calls I missed that night
but when I checked my voicemail in the morning my inbox was full!

Q: Holy cow! That's amazing. Do you know who first posted your number?
A: No idea.

Q: Just to check - you didn't have anything to do with your number being
posted right?
A: Not at all.

Q: So how many calls have you gotten since this all started?
A: Over 300.

Q: What's the strangest call you recieved?
A: The strangest message I got was a kid who asked if I was
AdjutantReflex (he didn't know how to pronounce it). He claimed to be a
Reclaimer, then left me his full name, email, phone number and gamertag.
Wow! Oh, another memorable call is a guy that just said "hey Vic, what's
happenin". That guy sounded drunk.

Q: Any females calling?
A: Sadly, no. No females are this obsessed with the ARG, I guess.

Q: What are your thoughts on this whole ordeal? Bitter? Excited?
A: Well, this is kind of freakish. But I'm not bitter at all. Some of the
gamers who called my phone and had me tell them it was some kind of joke
weren't to happy. But I think this is all hilarious. I always knew that
horrible recording would come back to bite me in the ass.

Q: How is your cell phone plan holding up? Are you going ot have a large
bill this month?
A: Don't know for sure yet. I only got a few text messages. When I did
answer calls they were either short calls or during my night time free
minutes. So, I don't think the bill will be too bad.

Q: What kinds of custom answering machine greetings have you had on your
phone? It's odd that out of all the phone numbers in the world, the fans
picked one that had a Red vs. Blue recording on it.
A: I always liked the one of Vic, but I have been meaning to change it to
the ones from the special features on the Red vs Blue Season 3 disk.

Q: Are you following the Alternate Reality Game that lead so many people
to call your number?
A: I haven't had much time with summer finals and school work. For my
advertising class I have to make an 80-page marketing/advertising report
about Starbucks.

Q: Are you a fan of HALO?
A: HUGE fan.

Q: How much have you played?
A: I've played about once a week for 6 hours or more since HALO 1 was
released. And I'm quite good just for the record.

Q: What's your gamertag?
A: 'AlDS baby'

Q: Are you looking forward to HALO 3?
A: HELL YES!!! I played the beta - got in on "Rule of 3" program so I
wouldn't have to buy Crackdown. I can't wait for the finished product!

Q: Do you have anything to say to the people that have been calling you?
A: Most of you wouldn't even respond when you got a live person on the
phone. I even replied in a monotone voice "Are you calling about the Halo
ARG?" and still some just hung up! How do you expect to get anywhere if you
don't even have the balls to respond?

Q: What are some of your favorite websites that you visit most
frequently?
A: http://www.banginpromotions.com/,
http://www.g4tv.com/attackoftheshow/index.html, http://stage6.divx.com/,
http://www.technewsworld.com/, http://news.com.com/,
http://www.megatokyo.com/, http://www.gamefaqs.com/, http://www.501st.com/.

Q: Do you have a MySpace account?
A: Yeah. I just started earlier this summer. It's at:
www.myspace.com/vicrvb. (Yes I made that custom URL after this all
started).

Q: Parting thoughts?
A: Sure, this is actually the second time my number has been on the
internet in a HALO-related prank. The first time it was a thread posted by
this guy on gameFAQs that told people to call my number to reach the "Halo
Coach" because "I'm the best". I got the first call at 4 AM (again before a
morning class) by a guy who wanted me to give him some pointers.

Had it not been that late I may have. The 'I'm the best' part gave him
away as it was a running joke. Luckily that thread got buried pretty quick.

Q: Where can we reach you in the future? Any plans to pop up in any more
pranks?
A: I should be starting a blog fairly soon (later this summer) that will
discuss a variety of topics from the latest in the HD DVD vs. Blu Ray
battle to Halo news etc. I will be posting updates about that in my MySpace
profile. Also any Halo enthusiasts can reach me by gamertag (given above).
Keep in mind I can only keep 100 friends. Also, everyone has started
calling me 'Vic'. To be honest I really don't mind.

(end interview)

A marketing major? A huge HALO fan? A huge Red vs. Blue fan? The stars must
have aligned for that one to happen! Speaking of astronomy...I wonder if he
is interested in the Society of the Ancients?

Here's hoping that Red vs. Blue hooks him up with some free swag for his
troubles. Good luck, Michael.

http://hushedcasket.com/node/2075






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