This isn't the first time Sony has been caught and questioned about the ethics of its marketing practices.
Back in December of 2005, the brand came under fire for a graffiti tactic that was used as a disguise for its marketing efforts. Neighborhoods spoke out against the company for using what some consider vandalism to sell a product and graffiti artists cried foul for "duping" people passing by.
This time the wrath comes from a blog titled alliwantforxmasisapsp.com (which has apparently been taken down by Sony) that featured two guys trying to spread the word about convincing family members to get one of them a PSP for Christmas. Except the whole thing wasn't really a blog -- a fact revealed by cyber sleuths who looked up the domain's registration file. It was all just an advertising ploy. Once this news broke, it only took a matter of hours for the word to spread and the rapid fire comments and responses began.
I'm sure the one thing Sony did NOT expect was the amount of active bashing of the brand [and the site] that has virally spread over every gaming site and marketing blog out there. Top gaming site Penny Arcade had this to say,
"Unwilling to let an increasingly savvy portfolio of titles speak to gamers directly, they chose instead to bring aboard guerilla marketing gurus Zipatoni to do irreparable damage to their brand."
The article goes on:
"The reality is that no agency can create viral marketing, this is the sole domain of the consumer. Viral marketing is what happens when a campaign works -- when we allow their message to travel via our own super efficient conduits. Perhaps it is entertaining on its own terms, divorced from the message. Perhaps it is a game or a story, like I Love Bees or other ARGs, where we take ownership in it. What distinguishes this from Guerilla Marketing is that we are aware of the message. When we are not aware of the message, or when the agents of the message misrepresent themselves, we call this "deception."
The increasing debate over false and dishonorable marketing practices was further heightened last week when the FTC in Washington weighed in for the first time on the ethical practices of word-of-mouth tactics in marketing and moved to suggest that companies or endorsers clearly disclose when they're working together. The move was an important symbol of just what consumers will [or will not] accept in terms of being marketed to.
The lesson learned in this debacle for small agencies like us is not so much about covering your tracks when creating alternative marketing but something much bigger;
1] Good advertising doesn't rely on tricking, lying to or deceiving your target audience.
2] The consumer is smarter than you think, alternative marketing tactics must be genuine, authentic and in today's world, transparent.
3] Today's interest in brand politics means that everything you do will come under scrutiny from someone. See number 2.
4] Involve your consumer in the brand conversation, give them the tools to do so and they will repay you four-fold.
Today's audience might forgive you once, but make the same mistake twice and many will hold the brand and company accountable for the mistakes other's make.