Sony wanted to generate interest in their new portable gaming system, the PlayStation Portable (PSP) the electronics giant decided that rather than rely on utilize their positive reputation to help build excitement for what at the time was a huge leap in gaming technology, they went with a rather lame alternative.
To make their communications appear organic and authentic, Sony enlisted a PR Firm to create a blog that included video showing that was supposed to be a kid named Charlie performing a rap song as his way of convincing his friend’s parents to give his buddy a PSP for Christmas.
Well, there was something slightly “off” about the video. You can check it out here and see for yourself.
For one, the “kid” in the video looked very much like an adult (who could buy his own PSP). C’mon, did you even try Central Casting?)
One viewer you saw the video thought the same thing, and with some searching, found that the video was linked to a blog that was in turn registered to a viral marketing company.1 (Not suspicious at all!)
Besides the video, a quick scroll down the Charlie’s blog (which is still up btw… no PSP references though…how odd…) also featured more than a few marketing pieces, his very attractive “friends” modeling PSP T-shirts, more videos of strangely 30ish looking youths all rapping about PSPs for Christmas, and other suspiciously pro-Sony material. All very professional stuff on what was supposed to be some kid’s amateur blog.2
It didn’t take long for people to catch on to the ruse (the buying public is very savvy) and linked the “fan” blog to its true owner, Zipatoni, a marketing company that listed Sony as a client.
Not only did Sony underestimate their audience’s intelligence (bad) they executed a communications plan that relied on not just a single stunt, but through creating a whole false narrative of videos, pictures and more! (SO much worse!)
This is how much worse: the very people Sony wanted to be falling over themselves to get PSPs during holiday season poured their heartfelt responses (with 700 responses) into the blog. Some standouts:
“Wow. Could you guys be any more blatant? Printing out a Sony PSP ad? Are you really counting on people to be that gullible? What an insult.”
“As a gamer who is part of Sony’s target audience I’m insulted not just by the integrity of this website, but that this reflects how intelligent Sony’s marketing department thinks I am. Good job turning consumers off your product,” reads one reply.”2
That was the gist of the majority of responses. Popular media blasted them as well – AdWeek, EuroGamer, and Consumerist among others. The overall sentiment? They felt insulted, betrayed – ALL the things you do NOT want to inspire in the very people you’re wanting to attract.
They did the EXACT OPPOSITE of what a communications strategy and PR plan is supposed to do – build TRUST through reputable third-party validation. Sony put their already established reputation at unnecessary risk, relying on deceit to sell their PSPs.
Sony is a multibillion-dollar company and the PlayStation line was already among the most popular gaming consoles in the world, so they could likely afford some bad press, but can you?
That doesn’t always matter. A strategic communications plan, that includes what your PR campaign would be, is to put you in – and able to maintain – the public trust. It’s never about trying to fool anyone, even if it means maybe selling a few more widgets in the short term.
This is about the long game.
If you’re going to play it right, don’t insult your audience’s intelligence, okay?
- Kohler, Chris, “Sony’s Failed PSP Viral Marketing Stunt”, Wired.com, wired.com/2006/12/sonys-failed-ps/, December 11, 2006
- Bingemann, Mitchell, “Fake PSP blog backfires for Sony”, PCWorld.idg.au, pcworld.idg.com.au/article/170345/fake_psp_blog_backfires_sony/, December 13, 2006