Video game publisher THQ learned that the hard way when it released dozens of red balloons that ended up in San Francisco Bay. The stunt, which was met with immediate anger from Bay Area residents and others, was meant to promote the release of THQ's new game Homefront at the Game Developers Conference.
Claims from THQ's VP of corporate communications Julia MacMedan that the balloons “are completely biodegradable” didn't stop environmentalists from blasting the company and its balloons on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.
A half-hearted claim dismissing environmental concern and a clean-up crew would always lose against a photo of a dead turtle with a piece of balloon hanging from its mouth.
The balloons' send-off was inspired by the story behind Homefront, released on March 15. Set in a future where the US is invaded by nuclear-armed North Korean troops, the balloon launch was meant to “simulate a method used by South Korea to send messages of hope to the North,” according to THQ.
In real life, the balloons carried discounts for video game retailer GameStop, which was the initial recipient of the backlash. It attempted to dodge it by claiming ignorance. One angry post on the retailer's Facebook page called the stunt “appalling and absolutely outrageous.”
While it's not clear if any animals perished because of the balloons, the threat alone sent people on a rampage.
If the goal had been to promote a virtual reality plagued by destructive forces with the demonstration of an act that reeks environmental havoc – well done.
Sadly, this seems to come down to a much simpler explanation: it is a classic case of not thinking before one acts.
Due diligence is vital to any PR plan and anyone who does their homework knows the practice of re-leasing latex objects into the air is only acceptable if it is attached to a house in a Disney-Pixar movie.
PR Play Rating:
3 On the right track