Michael Flatt

Marketer of the Week

Xbox's Michael Flatt on Why Creative Excellence is 'Everything'

After sweeping Cannes Lions with 'The Everyday Tactician' campaign, the marketer makes a case for creating advertising that gets noticed

By Stephen Lepitak

Creative excellence is everything” says Michael 'Flatty' Flatt, director of global integrated marketing at Xbox when asked about the importance of creativity across the gaming brand’s marketing. “Why would we do this otherwise?”

We caught up with the marketing director of the Microsoft-owned gaming platform in Cannes as he just heard that Xbox and McCann London’s campaign had won a Titanium Lion for its 'The Everyday Tactician' campaign. It’s the cherry on top of a week in which the same campaign - built on the idea that footie fans often think they can be superior managers to the pros - scooped multiple other awards in Cannes.

Feeling immensely proud of the Cannes Lions haul, Flatt talks to us about the idea behind the work and what its success has proven for the rationale to back it involving a partnership with Bromley Football Club. The collaboration would see it hire a dedicated player of the game to become a tactician within the club and showcase the data skills he’s learned over the years.

“I remember once having a conversation with someone who would say, ‘Yeah, I think the creativity is getting in the way,’ and God, the creativity is the whole reason why we're doing this just to get people to sit up and take notice,” he continues.

The former account director at Leo Burnett London and DDB joined Microsoft in 2008 as its head of advertising for EMEA. He was in the role for eight years before taking on global responsibilities. Flatt has been in his current post for just over a year now.

Polly McMorrow, CEO of McCann London says that the former adman is a trusting client who has created environments where people are given the confidence to take risks and describes him as "the gold standard of people who work in our industry who can create climates to thrive."

She goes on to add: "I love my relationship with him as a client. Great/strong relationships between clients and agencies are two humans who ultimately trust each other implicitly. Between us, you have to make some difficult calls… there's just a huge amount of respect and support. He is a partner in the truest form and he also makes it good fun aside from anything else."

It’s not the first major award he, McCann London and Xbox have won for their creative output. In 2022, they won a Silver Clio Award in the Entertainment category for ‘Therapeutic Play: a Player Like Me’. The year before, they all won a Gold for their work promoting ‘Hellblade 2’.

“If the advertising isn't noticed, everything else is academic… and I've had that in the back of my head constantly. You've got to go out there now and just be noticed and be talked about and engaged with and thought of, and all of that only comes from creativity. If you haven't got that you're screwed,” Flatt adds.

Tactical Lessons in Marketing

‘The Everyday Tactician” came from an idea offered by the team at McCann London when Xbox was launching FM 2024 on its Game Pass subscription service. The agency was tasked with developing an idea that would generate as much attention and excitement around the title’s release as possible and break through beyond its loyal fan base which predominantly play using desktops/laptops. It also had to easily explain what the game was about to those unfamiliar with it – the ongoing decision-making and strategic direction of a football team.

The idea used was the first to be presented – recruit a hardcore player of the game to join the staff of a real-life club and help advise them to become a winning team.

“It had been staring us in the face” he admits of the idea of turning the game into reality. “It just seemed to make complete sense.”

A major recruitment drive began to find the right person for the job, discovering Nathan Owolabi who was hired to work alongside manager Andy Woodman to offer his strategic insights and experience garnered from years of play Football Manager.

Have a bit of faith in producing something completely different. There are so many conventional routes to announcing that a title is coming.

Michael 'Flatty' Flatt, director of global integrated marketing at Xbox

That same season, Bromley FC would be promoted to the English Football League for the first time in its 132-year history – and the whole thing was captured as a documentary series by broadcaster TNT Sports too.

According to the case study for the campaign, it has generated over 1.5 billion impressions and grew the number of FM gamers on Xbox by 190 per cent, making it the most played version of the game to date.

Jim Nilsson, creative director at McCann London adds, "We live in quite a short-term marketing environment and consistency to me is impressive from a client. The Everyday Tactician was a success this year at Cannes Lions, but so was Survival Billboard and so was Visit Xbox. That’s one of the most impressive things about him is his consistency in creative work year in and year out."

Alongside the Titanium Lion, the campaign has also won two Grands Prix, one Gold and four Silver Lions at this year's festival.

“When work makes the most of a moment in time, it truly reflects groundbreaking creativity. We wanted to award this idea that hijacked a key cultural moment to make the world look at this company in a fresh and broader way. The idea is simple on the surface, yet daring in execution. At its core, it’s a spectacular product demonstration at a scale we’ve never seen before,” said Titanium Lions Jury President, Debbi Vandeven, global chief creative officer at VML, Global.

Insights From The Marketer

Despite his legacy of work, this most recent campaign and the resulting experiences have taught Flatt a thing or two that he is happy to relay.

“Have a bit of faith in producing something completely different. There are so many conventional routes to announcing that a title is coming… this was completely different from anything we had done before” is his advice for other product marketers.

“Take a bit of a risk,” he continues. “This was for us. We had become quite set in our ways and so to look at doing something completely removed from a lot of solutions we are present with weekly, after everything that’s happened, we feel energised to start making more of these decisions. It’s an experience that empowers us to do something completely different and untried.”


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