A Lesson for Video Game PR

Interesting article I found in Techland that discussed two of my passions: video games and PR. But in a bad way, lol.

Apparently, THQ decided to promote Homefront by releasing thousands of balloons into the air (how could this possibly go wrong?). The balloons (of course) promptly landed in San Francisco Bay. Video after the jump.

Gamestop was then accused of littering because the balloons contained a Gamestop offer, so THQ had to admit that it was they who did the dirty deed, not Gamestop.

Now as a PR student, one of the biggest things drilled into my head is being proactive. There were a few things they could have done to prevent this embarrassing faux pas.


1. Plan ahead

What could possibly go wrong? Plan all of the possible disasters, even the most unlikely. Then plan the company’s response or what could be done to mitigate the possibility of disaster. A few tactics they could have implemented:

  • If they really did want to go ahead with the balloon release, they should have alerted media about the biodegradable properties of the balloons. THQ could have sent a press release with a date/time to control the release of the information. This could have staved off some of the public outrage.
  • Is there an alternative but equally fun way to represent this idea? Don’t stifle creativity, but maybe having the balloons on very long strings or having a net up to catch them could have been just the little trick to prevent this. Or maybe something else could represent this same idea, like lighting a candle or shining spotlights into the air.
  • Ask local environmental groups for their opinion. If a company plans something that may impact more than just the place where they hold the event, they need to plan to communicate with any groups that may be affected.

2. Communicate

Gamestop said that they were not informed about this stunt. All parties that may somehow be involved should be alerted about any PR promotions, campaigns, and stunts. In my personal opinion, Gamestop should have actually been asked if the stunt was okay, as they may have expressed concern over the delivery of the coupons if asked.

A few examples of people who should have had the information about the balloon release:

  • Heads of THQ
  • Heads of Gamestop
  • Local neighborhood organizations

3. Identify your brand or company clearly

People should not have had to blame Gamestop for this. It should have been made clear somehow that THQ promoted this event. Gamestop may never want to work with THQ again due to this treatment. Other companies may worry and give THQ less freedom in any cross-promotion they want to do. Depending on whether or not this story becomes a big deal (right now, it appears to be a more local concern), THQ may lose a lot of business, because other companies will want to be distanced from this fiasco.

4. Do the right thing

Just about the only thing THQ did right was confess and clean up. Taking responsibility for their actions was a good move and cleaning up the bay instead of just saying “Oh, they are biodegradable…they’ll go away eventually” was helpful.

THQ could save face by promoting a day where the company helps clean the bay up and promotes the environmental cause of the Bay area. This negative could be turned into a “positive lesson” for the company. They can use a social media campaign to spread the word about their efforts and turn this all around.

4 thoughts on “A Lesson for Video Game PR

  1. Interesting article!

    Right now I am crying in my soup as Bethesda drops the ball in an on-going act of neglect towards their red-headed step-child Brink. Until BF3 was announced, Brink was my most anticipated title of the year. It is now just barely 2 months from release, and I still can’t even pre-order the silly thing. Yet, other Bethesda games like Skyrim and Rage are all over the web ready for pre-order, and getting gameplay videos like they are coming out tomorrow.

    If you have to google Brink, I rest my case. If you don’t, then you are probably surprised that it is coming out so soon, and again, I rest my case. 😉

    Great content here, btw.

  2. At least they didn’t plan a staged “invasion” of the bay area by actors dressed as foreign soldiers or something. (I’m looking at you, ‘Splinter Cell’)

    I’m no eco-warrior, but I’ve always hated the idea of releasing balloons, even if they are ‘biodegradable.’ Besides, given that relatively small target base for something like a video game launch (out of the population as a whole), I’d think a more focused promotion could make a bigger impact anyway. But what do I know?

    • I do agree, there have been worse. Maybe I’ll make a post about the top 5 worst videogame pr moves lol.

      I agree about balloon launching, it even just looks trashy, and who would pick one up off the street to see that it even had a coupon? I wouldn’t touch a random balloon on the ground!

      And you know a lot! One of the main credos of PR is to know your audience. Bigger is not often better!

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