Last April, Activision Blizzard hired former Restaurant Brands International CMO Fernando Machado to spice up marketing efforts as the gaming giant competed in an increasingly competitive market with COVID lockdowns spiking an interest in gaming.
But roughly four months into the job as chief marketing officer, Machado is confronted with a challenge of a much different kind: helping to restore consumer trust in a company whose reputation has been hurt by an internal scandal. The largest independent U.S. game maker, known for popular games like “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft” and “Candy Crush,” has been shaken by a sexual harassment lawsuit, which has led to an employee strike, calls for a boycott online, shareholders suing the brand for withholding information and the exit of two executives: J. Allen Brack, the head of Blizzard, who was singled out in the California suit for enabling sexual misconduct, and Jesse Meschuk, head of human resources at Blizzard.
Machado could not be reached for an interview. But as CMO, he will be called on to help reposition the brand in the minds of consumers, which will not be an easy feat.
"The entire leadership team is committed to long-lasting change. They will work with teams across the company, including the entire marketing organization, to improve and build the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration," says an Activision Blizzard spokesperson.
“This is about earning trust which is incredibly fleeting after a scandal like this,” says Mike Proulx, VP, research director at market research company Forrester. “Activision Blizzard has lost the trust of three interconnected stakeholders: Shareholders, employees, and consumers. Their stock price is down, employees went on a strike, and now the question is will consumers respond with their wallets?”
Proulx points to Forrester research that shows it’s highly likely consumers will respond negatively and use their wallets to do so: 60% of Gen Z adults in the U.S. play video games in their spare time and 50% regularly purchase from brands that align with their personal values. A particular stat of interest comes from an upcoming Forrester report called “The Effect of Cancel Culture On Brands,” which surveyed 1,056 consumers and found that 37% of U.S. Gen Z adults will boycott a brand if they treat their employees unfairly.