Reputation Management – Ubisoft’s “Failed” Watch Dogs Stunt

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    Taking marketing too far can create a need for crisis management

    Marketers are battling to see who can be the next viral sensation, but along with that push to be at the leading edge comes the risk of creating reputation issues for yourself in the process.

    Video game company Ubisoft found this out first hand after a carefully timed stunt went awry, leaving employees at an Australian media company scared and upset. See, Ubisoft is promoting its new game Watch Dogs, which features the story of a hacker antihero, by shipping sealed metal safes to members of the media. The recipients were supposed to receive a call with an unlock code just as the safe arrived, making for a fun cyber-spy experience that would hopefully lead to buzz around the title.

    Well, the Ninemsn offices never got the voicemail, and as a result were left with a sealed safe that started beeping when they toyed with it…and wouldn’t stop, sparking obvious fears of an explosive device. Staff was quickly evacuated, and law enforcement brought in to clear the device.

    As you might expect, police and Ninemsn staff were less than amused when a collection of Watch Dogs swag was the safe’s only contents, and the story quickly hit the media, causing Ubisoft to take a heavy dose of mockery.

    Knowing it had made a mistake, Ubisoft released the following statement as a crisis management effort:

    “As part of a themed promotion for Watch Dogs, our team in Australia sent voicemail messages to some local media alerting them that they’d receive a special package related to the game. Unfortunately, the delivery to Ninemsn didn’t go as planned, and we unreservedly apologise to Ninemsn’s staff for the mistake and for any problems caused as a result. We will take additional precautions in the future to ensure this kind of situation doesn’t happen again.”

    One more point we feel compelled to mention – thus far we’ve seen no reports of a fine or further punishment for Ubisoft. Interestingly enough, if that holds true it will mean that, despite flirting with crisis, this failure may turn out to be a PR win in the end.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]