Nothing like terrible reviews to get people buying, right?
Well, if it’s the right people who pan your product, that can actually make it look even better for its actual intended target. Counterintuitive, I know. I mean, who actually likes terrible reviews, right?
Well, Electronic Arts (EA), the makers of the survival horror video game, Dead Space 2 though they would. More specifically, reviews not from the players themselves, but the players’ moms.1
Sure, violent content in movies, television shows, and video games isn’t anything new, and parent advocacy groups have lamented over them, including Dead Space 2, for their possible effects such content has on children, sometimes even the ads themselves.2
EA tapped into that concern when they enlisted moms’ help to, shall we say, “review” the new game.
The game maker placed the moms into a room, handed them a game controller, and had them play Dead Space 2 themselves. EA filmed their reactions as they played, and I gotta say, some of them are great (I’ll explain later). They turned some of the ‘er, best of them into a series of commercials.3
Predictably, they were horrified. Disgusted. Appalled. One mother even called the game an “atrocity”.
And as far as EA was concerned, they got exactly the reactions they wanted.
The bet they were making here was to play into the minds of actual target market – their reviewers’ kids. The simple reasoning here was, if your mom hates Dead Space 2, then you’re gonna LOVE it!
Well, those negative reactions played right into their hands.
Think about the psychology around this. What kid is going to jump on a game that their mom thinks is the bee’s knees? (Yeah, I said it – don’t judge me).
Just look at how music and movies have changed over the decades – Elvis Presley and Rambo didn’t succeed because they earned parents’ stamp of approval. They made their mark in part because parents disapproved.
It was all part of EA’s plan – taking the expected negative PR and turning it into an advantage for themselves – a DISRUPTIVE marketing campaign.
Betting they could tap into what they perceived as their gaming audience’s rebellious nature, they created a whole series of videos for YouTube and commercials with the moniker, “Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2”.
It wasn’t long before the outrage EA had collected and shared with the world spilled over into numerous big media outlets, getting them the coverage, some of it that to-be-expected negative content, their new game needed to succeed:
CBS News: Dead Space 2: Why Your Mom Hates It
Engadget: ‘Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2’ campaign uncovered
AdAge: Dead Space 2: Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2
Forbes: EA Using Mom’s Disapproval to Sell Dead Space 2
Sure, media sources dissected and analyzed EA’s thinly veiled ploy to generate their own controversy, and the media was sometimes even willing to acknowledge their complicity in it by being critical of not the game itself, but the ad campaign’s appeal to parent and child stereotypes.
Did you get that? Critical or not, the media was actually spreading the word about the ad campaign itself, letting their audiences know about the commercials, YouTube videos, and of course, the game itself that had just gone on sale. (Hey, everybody! Look at how terrible this ad campaign is! LOOOOK!)
- T. Barnum is credited with coining the phrase, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” and in this case, I think he might be right here. EA was measuring success through unit sales of course, so their self-imposed hate campaign ended up being a good approach. While they sold 4 million units (a respectable, but not exactly blockbuster number for a video game), their overall profits ended up being undercut by a combination of high development and promotion costs.4 (not due to the messaging, I would add)
In fact, I would remind you that it was the messaging that led to massive, free publicity. It may have even helped offset those massive expenditures, but apparently not enough to create epic sales. (Sorta like cutting off their nose to spite their face).
Still, EA (inadvertently) took a page from P. T. Barnum’s publicity playbook, crafted a message around it, and caused a DISRUPTION in their industry – and despite their own excessive spending, the gaming company pulled off enough ROI to merit a sequel, Dead Space 3.
And in the high-stakes world of video games, if you can do well enough to make a follow up to an IP, you’re in pretty damn good shape.
Yeah, EA may have pissed off some moms and overspent in the process, they still made plenty of their fans happy.
I’d say they earned their “1-up”. (Gamers will get it. 😉)
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Sinha, Ravi. “10 Worst Video Game Publicity Stunts.” GamingBolt.com, 9, Sept. 2019, gamingbolt.com/10-worst-video-game-publicity-stunts/2.
Pham, Alex. “Parent advocacy group hates EA’s ‘Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2’ ads.” Los Angeles Times, 4 Feb 2011, latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2011/02/your-mom-hates-dead-space-2-advert-stirring-controversy.html.
Benedetti, Winda. “Your Mamma Plays ‘Dead Space 2’.” Kotaku, 1 Jan 2011, kotaku.com/your-mama-plays-dead-space-2-5739837.
Byrd, Matthew. “New Report Reveals Dead Space 2’s High Budget and Low Sales.” Kotaku, 18 Oct. 2017, denofgeek.com/games/new-report-reveals-dead-space-2s-high-budget-and-low-sales/#:~:text=Former%20Visceral%20level%20designer%20Zach,sold%20around%204%20million%20copies.