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.

Filed Under: backlash, black ops 3, call of duty, orson welles, publicity stunt, war of the worlds


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 1:29am

    Governments respone:

    "Ah, yes, but, ......is there evidence that this make believe story, DID'NT, actually happen?"

    "Because, you know.....terrorism"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 1:35am

    "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?"


    For a site that claims to champion free expression, you sure are cynical when it comes to a perfectly valid form of marketing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    PaulT (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 1:55am

    Re:

    You do realise that free expression does not shield you from the consequences or criticism of that expression, right?

    Nobody's saying that they should not be free to express themselves in this way. They're just saying that the way they chose to express that freedom was stupid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 2:28am

    wouldn't it be cheaper and more profitable
    to actually sponsor a couple of fake flag attacks?
    as far as we know that it the US GOV mindset

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 2:49am

    Re: Re:

    What about the fact that as news this story is three weeks old?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Violynne (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 3:11am

    We'll see how bad this move was for Activision when they post their quarterly sales numbers.

    Wait. We don't need to wait. I can already surmise the outcome will have zero effect on sales.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    PaulT (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 3:27am

    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*?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 3:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    do you have nothing better to do with your life than write longwinded replies to people you view as nothing more than trolls? You must have written 10 000 words in the last two days. Get life PaulT.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    PaulT (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 4:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 4:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    par for the course isn't it? Ad Homs and meandering bullshit.
    I bet you're here tomorrow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Ninja (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 4:19am

    Re:

    Nah, it was a Blundell. Blunder.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Ninja (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 4:22am

    Hmmmm...

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    PaulT (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 4:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ad homs? I addressed all your "points", and was met not with a discussion or clarification but a personal attack. But, you can't take it in return it seems.

    Glad you'll be waiting round here for me tomorrow. I'll see which lies and misdirections you attempted on Monday.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 4:40am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    just more meandering bullshit, See you tomorrow PaulT.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    PaulT (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 4:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Truth hurts, huh? No wonder you're so allergic to it. Have a good time waiting for me, sadly I have intelligent people to engage instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 5:18am

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on Oct 16th, 2015 @ 1:35am

    He's just using his own free speech to point out that this is in incredible bad taste

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 5:30am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Stu, 16 Oct 2015 @ 5:44am

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 5:59am

    People will believe anything

    Seriously, if you're getting your news from random tweets you should think again turn away. We all could benefit from increased skepticism of all media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 6:01am

    Re: Re:

    Agree, what is the real news story here?

    The sadness that is humanity!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Ninja (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 6:21am

    Re:

    That. Though I disagree it is the dumbest story. It's actually a portrait of how stupid humans are currently as a collective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Monday (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 7:08am

    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.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 7:16am

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it pretty much just Polygon, the perpetual offended machine, that took issue with this? I don't count Gamesradar since they just parrot and reblog anything they see on the internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    tqk (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 9:56am

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

    Unless they're absolute idiots, who gets there news from twitter posts.

    Reporters working for news organizations, apparently. See the story about the guy who was bombarded with tweets asking to use his pics of a plane burning on the tarmac recently.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 10:49am

    Re:

    Spot the corporate shrill..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 11:47am

    Who gets news from Twitter posts?

    During the Ferguson attacks the twitter posts from those on the ground was the news. No you couldn't believe every tweet, but when you got six or seven complaining about tear gas you could be pretty sure they're deploying tear gas.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 11:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    it is next to impossible to reason with white knights. best not even to try until they come to their senses and realize the company they are defending does not want or need their help.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2015 @ 1:30pm

    Ah, i see that the US government is spending their briberyfundingfavours well

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    John85851 (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 2:57pm

    Re: People will believe anything

    I agree.
    Did people try to confirm this by going to any other news source or did they immediately lose their minds?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    John85851 (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 3:03pm

    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."
    http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/history/2013/10/orson_welles_war_of_the_worlds_panic_m yth_the_infamous_radio_broadcast_did.html

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 16 Oct 2015 @ 3:40pm

    Re: Not such a panic over War of the Worlds

    Yeah, that's how we knownthe terrorists won, is because we're continuously in a state of terror.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2015 @ 2:04am

    Re: Re: Not such a panic over War of the Worlds

    That is how we know the aliens won also since we are in a continuous state of alienation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2015 @ 5:14pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Oct 2015 @ 12:04am

    [a lot of people] vs. [a news agency]

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

    Sometimes a report from a news agency reveals truth, but it can just as easily reveal stupidity.

    Or, for that matter, blatant lies from agency press secretary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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