Or is it?
This is the question that even Activision themselves dodged this evening, as they responded in a typical cookie-cutter response;
“Activision’s official source of news for our Marvel games is Facebook.com/HeroHQ or www.HeroHQ.com. Anything posted elsewhere should not be taken as representative of Activision unless confirmed by Activision.”
Now, I have not been employed in PR. I am a writer, poet and gamer. So this shouldn’t be my area of expertise, HOWEVER, I do know some individuals who do PR. I am reasonably versed in their wily ways, especially as a gamer – I’ve become strangely immunised against hype in the last five or six years. All of what follows is pretty much common knowledge – but it is worth reminding ourselves of the brutality and complexity of a PR Fail, and even when it isn’t an official source – it can be just as demeaning, damaging and fatal as an official PR fail.
The first question to ask here is; Was the site Official or not?
This is not as simple to answer as it first appears, because the world of PR isn’t always there to defend a company or to make bad news sweeter to digest – it also has to run promotions.
Promotional PR companies are usually third-party, and therefore in many cases they can masquerade as an unofficial source, but they still get most of their feed from the source company in question. They are still, in technical terms, “Unofficial” despite this link, and this allows them a degree of freedom in the way they promote their product. This can be through simple overly-zealous hype, to unofficial giveaways and simply by drumming up enough support through sign-ups and likes.
Often, these third parties aren’t directly paid, instead taking a share of advertising revenues (many of which they are affiliated to and paid directly by) or a slice of any event proceeds. This gives the original source an even greater security, because in this way there is less trail leading back to them. Getting a company to run a fansite is one thing; paying them to do so, when there is a risk things can go wrong, is another thing entirely.
So, when things go wrong – like in this instance – it can be confusing as to whether or not it is official or not. Especially when the person running the site seems to contradict themselves in the process.
So let us flip this around as well, for sake of argument – say this was an elaborate con, a hoax site designed to try and get personal information out of gullible Facebook users. Does this still count as a PR Fail?
Yes. Yes it does.
The thing here is, the facebook page declared itself official on September 3rd 2011 – very openly and quite brazenly, when asked. So the person running the site was clearly in breach of the rules and guidelines. All that was needed was Activision, or Marvel or any someone to point this out and this whole fiasco could have been nipped in the bud at a very early stage, without any real embarrassment (The cached page is damning in this regard).
Activision is not a company known for its subtlety, or its gentle approach. So that this one could have been missed is a humiliation for them, as it so clearly exposes a weakness. That a fansite can parade as an official source, fake news and get material from other sources and do a very convincing job of passing itself off as the real deal.
In a world where you have to defend your patents, trademarks and intellectual property, unofficial fansites are very often razed to the ground in the pursuit of making absolutely sure that no harm can come to the source material. This is why third-party promotional companies are so useful – if things go wrong, the bridges can be burned and no harm is done to the company, right?
Sort of. Whilst Activision may not get directly burned, the reality is that Spiderman: Edge of Time has already been tainted – the material has been soured by an outside source, and one that could have been amply stopped before it did any damage. If it bombs, this scenario will be mocked, but it is the game that suffers, not the people behind it, who will be paid to quickly move on to their next project, whilst the sins committed promoting the game can be quietly buried.
Not that a new Spiderman game needs outside help to mock it, but I digress.
Of course, the mystery third option is that this was fully run by Activision and they are trying to cover up an otherwise spectacular own-goal, but that may be giving even Activision, the masters of PR Fail, too much credit. To suggest this is conspiracy theory at the moment, and whilst this sort of behaviour is not unheard of (I think we should take a moment to remember the brilliant pile of fail that was “All I Want For Xmas Is A PSP” blog) it is still not grounded in any real hard evidence, especially given the alternatives.
But the ultimate victims in this are the users of Facebook – who once again must feel deeply humiliated and conned – and the game, Spiderman: Edge of Time, which will now carry the burden of this little gaffe at release, knowing as we all do that it didn’t have to be that way. Knowing that as a Spiderman game, it was already going to have a tough initiation, and now a near-impossible one.
And this whole business of PR is so laughably terrible it is often quite amusing. None of what I’ve written about is secret – we all know it, and have done for years, but we never really give it much thought.
And neither do the PR men and women, who so often live in a parallel world to the rest of us. They seem to be wholly or partially devoid of their own personality, so that they can be dipped into a product team and assimilate fully into that culture. Think Dollhouse. Only with slightly less wooden acting. Oof! No! Don’t! I LOVE Eliza Dushku! I really do! I also love Joss Whedon! Please! Spare me! Not the face! NOT THE FACE!
We all know how this works. But so often, we don’t realise it. And we carry on being slightly conned by businesses who make it their mission to profit from that con.
They say there is one born every minute. But, to quote some famous PR Gurus… “In PR, there’s one born every thirty seconds…”
Sleep well! 😛