Close-Up: Could 'human avatar' become next meerkat?

Matt Williams reveals how Dare has generated buzz around EA's latest video game by bringing its central character to life.

A few months ago, Louise Redknapp revealed her embarrassment in starring in "that" Thomas Cook ad, telling a newspaper that in all her years in showbiz, she'd never taken so much stick.

But for Josh Dyer, being humiliated all in the name of advertising is something that he's happy to do.

Dyer has been the focus of a new campaign for EA Games to help promote the launch of its All Points Bulletin multiplayer online game.

Created by Dare, the campaign turns Dyer, a 25-year-old free-runner, into a "human avatar". The agency has asked the online community to choose a haircut, piercing, tattoo and clothes for Dyer, before adding him to the game.

But not only will he feature in the game with the new look, Dyer has also had to undergo the changes for real. Over a three-week period during the voting process, he has had to get a new hairstyle (a blue "cyberpunk" cut), a piercing (a "snout" ring), a tattoo (wings on his back) and, most recently, a new outfit (last week, users voted for "steam punk" clobber).

"Our task was to make as much prolonged noise around the gaming community as we could, and to do that we had to do something extreme to capture the attention of the gaming press and the gamers themselves," Nick Emmel, Dare's executive planning director, says.

"Extreme" is an appropriate word. As expected with internet users, the gaming community didn't hold back and elected to give Dyer the most radical makeover possible. "This idea would be useless, though, if you clipped its wings," Emmel points out. "It all would have become a bit blunt and boring. But that's why we had a really extensive casting process.

"There were a lot of nutters and a lot of casting agencies that said 'no' because they didn't want their clients going near it, but we treated it all properly. We we psychologically tested everyone, so that we weren't tricking people into doing anything they didn't want to do."

So what on earth possessed Dyer to want to take part? "I saw it as an opportunity to promote myself and my skills, and do something worth remembering at the same time."

The snout ring, Dyer acknowledges, will probably be the first to go (he doesn't have much choice with the tattoo), but the process is not something he regrets. "Most of my friends think it's cool, funny, ballsy or all of the above," he says.

For Dare and EA, as well as the buzz the campaign has generated, they also now have an "in-game celebrity" who can be used in the future. "The number of people in the APB community is huge, so instead of recreating any of that, we're giving them an extra person to relate to and talk about," Emmel says. "He becomes a reason to drag people back in. In a way, we're hoping he could become our meerkat."