Should Sony stop selling or recall “Resistance:Fall of Man”? because it has a building where a fight with aliens take place that looks a lot like Manchester cathedral. The Church of England is demanding an apology–and I would guess, a ban on the games or removal of the offending scenes.
I’m not sure what the real issue is here. The photo caption of the news story says the Church of England is deeply offended and worried about gun crime. OK, so is the point of the proposed legal action to stop violent video games and the fact that the building here looks like one of their’s simply provides a relevant pretext? Or is there a claim in here to copyright protection of the building including representations of buildings that might look similar? How far can that be pushed?
My comments are not about the interesting legal implications, because I’m sure what Sony is far more concerned about is its reputation and its sales of a game that has sold 2 million copies. As I said at first, the controversy will probably help propel the sales–you can’t buy this kind of advertising. Besides, having what many young perceive as a bunch of stuffy, grumpy religious people object to a video game is a great way to generate their interest in it.
At the same time, Sony is brand bigger than video games and no one who cares about the American market (much more so than the European for example) can be too cavalier about religious sensitivities. Too demonstrate you have no concern for what offends those who hold things sacred is to risk some serious backlash and brand damage.
If I was a Sony advisor, I’d say stretch out the discussion. Make it last. Get lots of play. Get the bloggers going on it. Then make some modifications such as redesign the cathedral just a bit so it maybe loses a little of resemblance. Make a big deal out of your great sensitivity to the demands of the church, and then go to the bank.
In other words, I think the Church of England goofed up on this. Your thoughts?
Authenticity is among the highest values in the blogworld. That’s why the blog world reacts so strongly to the idea of fake blogs or “flogs.” The Wal-Mart flog controversy involving Edelman was hyped in part by the paid critics of Wal-Mart funded by unions, but that does not diminish the outrage of the blog world to the idea of a PR company funding a blog that posed as being an authentic expression of personal opinion and experience.
Now Sony has been outed as running a flog through a viral marketing firm called Zipatoni. The justification for the funded promotional blog was that it was humorous. According to a poster on the blog presumed to be a Zipatoni executive, Sony’s reaction to the proposal to do a promotional blog without identity was: “who cares if people find out? As long as it is funny, we do this stuff all of the time.”
If that is the case, the Sony marketing execs do not understand either the value system of the blog world, nor the rules of ethics of WOMMA. Those ethical standards are based, as I recently heard, on this new definition of ROI:
Honesty in Relationship (that is full disclosure of any relationship to the subject addressed)
Honesty in Opinion (the opinions expressed be authentic and not motivated by other agendas)
Honesty in Identity (disclose truthfully the author)
Now it appears, again something I just heard, that the FTC is getting into the act of making these kinds of ethical standards into regulations.
Whether or not this becomes the law of the land or not is not really the point. The law of the blogland has already been well established and is more effective than anything any federal agency can do. Authenticity is the key. I just hope that the blogworld treats inauthentic critic blogs (such as Wal-martwatch.org) with the same degree of flame as they do the flogs that have received all the attention.
I’ve been a strong advocate of being quick to apologize when you have done something wrong–both personally and as a company. I believe people are very willing to forgive when there is a sincere expression of regret and clear communication about how you are changing.
This headline from the Bulldog Reporter (a PR Industry publication) suggests that Sony’s apology over bad batteries has hurt them:
Sony’s Public Apology For Massive Battery Recall Only Amplifies Widespread Impact—And Company’s Ongoing Economic and Technological Crisis
Read the article, though, and you will see that this headline (like many of us in PR complain about) is badly misleading. It was not the apology that created the problem, it was the fact that it was so late in coming according to the writer.
Messages: late apologies are almost as bad as no apologies at all and 2) bad headline writing even occurs in PR industry publications. (All they would have had to do is say “Sony’s late apology…”
So Sony is in the news today. The charge: racism. An ad they have run in the Netherlands has prompted cries of outrage in the US for racism. See the ad and story here from the cnn money site. I’ll let you decide if you think the ad is racist or not.
My comment is about vulnerability around the issue of racism. The increased awareness of the public of the power of the media and messages in the media have prompted a much much higher level of concern about anything that may be considered racist. Completely innocent expressions can be seen as sinister and reflecting an unconscious level of racial insensitivity. One problem is that while most in your audience may not see an issue, only one or two who have special sensitivity or even hypersensitivity can make the claim. Calling out “racism” is like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater except the fire yell is illegal and claiming racism is seen as positive. It almost always means that accused party is guilty immediately–again, even if only one or two saw a problem.
I experienced this working with a client a while ago regarding the character of Zwarte Piet or Black Peter in a Christmas celebration. Black Peter is a central element of the Dutch Christmas celebration as he is Sinter Klaas’ helper. Traditionally Zwarte Piet has been presented as a child in full black face and that is still the way it is done in the Netherlands. But do it here, even in a strong Dutch community and you are certain to have a few voices cry out “racism.” The organization wisely chose to alter the custom, but there were those angry about the changes because they do not believe they were being insensitive to celebrate an old tradition in the traditional way. Those demanding change were the insensitive ones, they felt.
The point is, here is a good way to lose both ways. Obviously the best way is to find ways to avoid it even while that recognizes limits on freedom of expression. But if you get caught in the racism cries, there’s really only one alternative for companies like Sony. Pull the ads. Say you’re sorry that people understood it in a way they never intended. And create a new ad.