Not so for social gaming company Zynga, which benefited from fortuitous product placement in one of 2011's most whimsical celebrity meltdowns when actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to stop playing the company's Words with Friends game.
Baldwin, the star of NBC's 30 Rock, told his once-significant Twitter following that “Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving.” Baldwin wasn't blameless in the episode – he reportedly slammed the lavatory door so loudly it startled pilots before he was removed. Then Zynga spread brand awareness of Words with Friends by publishing Twitter posts with the hashtag #LetAlecPlay. Shortly thereafter, the game's number of daily active users jumped by 300,000 to 5.5 million. It got another boost when Baldwin appeared on Saturday Night Live mocking the confrontation by dressing as an airline pilot and apologizing to himself.
PR Play rating:
3. On the right track
The incident might have also raised its profile among a new audience: financial professionals. The awareness spike will help Zynga familiarize itself with the average portfolio manager who might not have known about the game, according to Bloomberg News. And it did so at a crucial time, when it is reportedly pressing to raise $1 billion through its IPO.
In this case, the old adage that you can't buy this kind of publicity is true. But Zynga deserves plenty of credit for taking advantage of the situation to create a spike in awareness by using social media. As USA Today put it, “If you had to declare an early winner in the kerfuffle between actor Alec Baldwin and American Airlines, it might be Zynga.”