Call Of Duty Tries To Pull An Orson Welles And Gets Backlash Instead Of Panic

from the nice-try dept

There are just so many ways to get marketing stunts wrong, particularly in an era where these stunts and their effects can go viral so quickly. You can stage a protest against your own product, for instance. Or maybe you can pimp your cartoon show in such a way that a major city calls out the bomb squads. Or, hey, why not just fake having an entire office building taken hostage to celebrate the release of a new bit of technology? Pretty dumb, right?

Well, how about as dumb as trying to remake the infamous (and probably massively apocryphal) radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds by yanking the stunt into modernity using Twitter instead of radio?

Call of Duty’s attempt to merge the futuristic fiction of its latest game, Black Ops 3, with rapid-fire Twitter marketing has met with some criticism – enough to warrant an apology from the game’s campaign director, Jason Blundell.

“I personally am very sorry for anyone who looked at it and got the wrong idea because it genuinely wasn’t meant that way,” Blundell tells IGN.

Blundell is referring to a briefly staged takeover of the Call of Duty Twitter account on 29 September, during which the channel’s name was changed to “Current Events Aggregate.” The account tweeted several out-of-place stories, seemingly plucked from a news source in the near future – the same future proposed by Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. It wasn’t until the reports suggested a terrorist attack in Singapore that followers criticized the stunt as lacking in context and being in poor taste. Several outlets, including the BBC, reported on the social backlash.

It seems that there was nothing like the widespread panic to this stunt as the legend of the broadcast of The War of the Worlds entailed, but still, what were they thinking? There are enough world events centering around terrorist attacks in enough parts of the world that are so often reported on Twitter before other sources that they had to realize that some percentage of readers would think that this renamed Twitter handle was reporting on real-world events. Even once the name was changed back, quick-scrollers would likely only see the headline first, and possibly react to it as though it were real news.

Is this cruel? No. Hell no. Was it dumb? Absolutely. Marketing doesn’t occur in a vacuum, after all, and part of the point of this marketing stunt is that the Call of Duty franchise strives for a certain kind of gritty realism, dealing with topics of terrorism and war. Tone-deaf marketing atempts that might misinform are more likely than not to end in apologies, as did happen in this case. And for what benefit?

“It was done on our channel, and it was to talk about the fiction of the world, says Blundell. ”I think we were as shocked as everybody else when it started blowing up, because essentially we were teeing up ready for a story beat.” Blundell also distances himself from involvement in the marketing, saying “it was absolutely not done for any kind of attention in any way.”

That just doesn’t pass the smell test, unfortunately. You don’t devise Twitter marketing stunts and then get surprised when they get attention. Probably best at this point to make it a bit easier to identify the fiction in the “story beat,” I think.

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Comments on “Call Of Duty Tries To Pull An Orson Welles And Gets Backlash Instead Of Panic”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Apart from the fact that it’s not? The original tweet was from the 29th Sept, sure, but the article being commented about and the apology only happened this week. Since the article is about the apology, I’m not sure how you expect it to have been written about weeks ago.

But, what about it? Is there some magical limit where an opinion blog can no longer comment upon what interests them? Is there some unspoken limit to when we can discuss stories, or did you mistake this site for a breaking primary news source?

Do you have any objection rooted in reality, or is this just another time where an AC can’t find anything to question in the facts but has to attack something?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I’m bored during downtime at work, and I sometime enjoy poking obsessed idiots while waiting for deployments to finish. That’s usually when I post, unless there’s some bad weather or a particularly interesting conversation going on. My social life starts at 5pm local time (only 4 hours to go!), and you won’t see me post until next week once it begins.

What’s your excuse for acting like an idiot here? I notice you don’t even bother to defend your behaviour or comments, just some extremely poor attempts to attack others.

Ninja (profile) says:


There are enough world events centering around terrorist attacks in enough parts of the world that are so often reported on Twitter before other sources that they had to realize that some percentage of readers would think that this renamed Twitter handle was reporting on real-world events.

I see your point and don’t get me wrong but isn’t it ironic we were so taken hostages by terrorism that we can’t stand jokes and marketing stunts involving it?

Pitiful, humanity. Pitiful.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not so much ironic as sad really. That we can’t joke about it means that it’s worked. The goal of terrorism isn’t a bodycount, it’s making people afraid and getting them to act panicky as a result, and as such it’s worked more than the bloodthirsty idiots with bombs and guns could have ever dreamed of, in large part thanks to the various governments fanning the fear for their own benefit.

Stu says:

This is the dumbest story I had read this week, and its saddening that TechDirt took this stance on it.

I don’t care how “real” people thought it was, it was clearly from @CALLOFDUTY holy crap. Anyone following that account knows about BlOps3 and its setting and should understand. Anyone who believed it was real, and freakout out, got punk’d and that was the point. If they spent 5 more seconds and went to cnn/fox/bbc or whatever news site they choose, they would have seen it wasn’t real.

The fact the internet didn’t laugh and instead got upset is crazy.

*insert Prof Farnsworth “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore” gif

Monday (profile) says:

It's not real... it's make-believe...

I think it is a pretty smart stunt. There are just way too many people out there unable to separate fiction from reality, as it was obviously CoD’s account – Official Call of Duty®. How does a twitter feed go from extra-player and bonus features; robotic enemies, and gamer images to War of the Worlds and someone take it seriously.
Unless they’re absolute idiots, who gets there news from twitter posts. Must be huge fans of TMZ and the Kardashians – who I still can’t figure out what exactly it is they do for a living…
It’s not a dumb story, but it does reveal just how crazy people get ‘in congregation.’

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Who gets news from Twitter posts?

Maybe for you. I just called my friend who looked out his window and told me what he saw. There was least one time when a bunch of morons on Twitter thought they were being gassed when the wind shifted and blew smoke from the store they had set on fire in their faces.

Point is, sometimes a lot of people saying the same thing reveals truth, but can just as easily reveal stupidity.

John85851 (profile) says:

Not such a panic over War of the Worlds

According to this article in Slate from 2013:
“The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast. Despite repeated assertions to the contrary in the PBS and NPR programs, almost nobody was fooled by Welles’ broadcast.”

So I don’t think the “marketing strategy” of comparing a tweet about a terrorist attack compares to the “War of the Worlds” broadcast.
Far more people care about terrorist attacks in 2015 than they cared about supposed alien invasions in 1938.

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