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ICONS ARE BETTER #52: HALO’S ‘MASTER CHIEF’ AKA JOHN 117

When the developers of Halo (Xbox) first designed the character of Master Chief, they intentionally designed a blank canvas.

A big’n’green generic space marine. Whose face could’ve been anyone’s face, behind that motorcycle-style helmet: that could have been your face, and body – the gamer – all engulfed in that severely cumbersome galactic armour.

Personality? Green.

Body type? Green.

Sense of humour? Green.

Favourite colour…? Who cares.

But then something funny happened.

As people played ‘in the character’ of this blank canvas – over four hugely epic installments – they started to fill that character in.

Incredibly, they GAVE Master Chief a personality. Organically, through their online communities, through fan literature, and other things I can’t think of right now.

That, accumulatively, made a pop icon out of an anti-icon.

Bungie (the developers), in response, followed suit. Gradually carving out an icon – by popular demand – in the course of the four games. So successfully, in fact, that they brought millions of gamers to tears in the final sequences of Halo 4. Tears of emotion. Shed for the fate of Master Chief. Finally revealed as John-117.

So what’s the lesson? That even the most generic brand can become an icon.

If you give people an opportunity to have meaningful experiences with that brand. Give them an opportunity to live with you; go through trauma with you; experience victory with you; get all breathless with you.

It works. Just look how attached you’ve become to your rubbish long-term romantic partner.

If actions speak louder than words, then experiences speak louder than logos. Or something like that…

Tom Keane @TGKeane

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