In this screenshot, a section of the Call of Duty Twitter feed is seen containing tweets related to a terrorist attack late last month. (Screenshot)
Marketing is one of those businesses that you should really never try to do yourself, because it requires a delicate touch or at least some common sense. After a string of marketing disasters, now is as good a time as any to examine video games and the industry’s horrible record with marketing.
You can thank the official “Call of Duty” Twitter account for this column, because the most recent blunder in marketing came from social media. Over a month before the release of the franchise’s latest game, “Black Ops III,” the Twitter account, which has over two million followers, began posting reports of terrorist attacks.
“Sources confirm explosion took place at Singapore Research Laboratories belonging to the Coalesce Corporation,” one tweet read, accompanied by a picture of a nuclear explosion, which probably came from the unreleased game.
It is also worth mentioning that a fictional news organization was made up for these tweets as well, called the “Current Events Aggregate.” At no point did the Twitter account make it clear that these were fictional tweets or that they were part of a promotional campaign for the game. For those with friends or family in Singapore, these tweets likely inspired a brief fit of panic, and more than one frantic phone call was probably made as a result of this idiotic campaign.
Other advertising campaigns may not stack up in terms of baffling stupidity, but EA must get props for the pointlessness of their advertising campaign for “Dante’s Inferno,” all the way back in 2010.
In the lead up to that game’s release, EA encouraged fans to commit and document “acts of lust” in order to win prizes, including a night with a “night of lust” with two EA representatives. Do I even need to explain why this is the kind of backwards, terrible marketing strategy that makes video games seem like the domain of hormonal teenagers?
The marketing team behind “Dante’s Inferno” was never going to be limited to that disgraceful and misogynistic competition. EA also paid a group of actors to stand outside a Comic Con and pretend to protest the game, with various signs like, “EA= Electronic Anti-Christ” and “Hell is not a game.” No indication was made that this was a promotion for the game, and the only goal that I can see is the generation of buzz at any expense necessary.
Unfortunately, some of that marketing may have worked in the game’s favor, as the game sold “almost a million” copies, according to EA, although they’re hardly the most reliable of sources. For such a gigantic and well-promoted IP, though, I’m certain that EA expected the game to sell a lot better than “almost” a million copies.
The truth is, though, that terrible marketing practices have always been an unfortunate and unneeded part of the video games industry. One of the earliest examples of this was “Carmaggedon,” which boasted of having racing mechanics so easy that controlling the cars was like “killing a baby with an axe.” It caused outrage and calls to boycott and ban the game, but in the end the game’s sales shot up as a result of the controversial campaign.
This year, I wrote an investigative piece about “Hatred,” a game that put players in the role of a spree killer. The developers claimed that the game was a response to political correctness in recent years, but once the game was out it was easy to see the content of the game was built to be shocking rather than fun. The only purpose of the graphic violence was to sell copies.
The most significant thing we can do when confronted with twisted ad campaigns is to ignore them. If you condemn them, then the marketing departments win, and such campaigns will continue. Ignore them, however, and suddenly all that bluster becomes nothing.
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