Commentary

EA Bombs With 'Lust'-Driven Promo

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people," goes the famous quote by H.L. Mencken, which many marketers seem to take to heart. After all, if you want to maximize your reach, you ought to appeal to the lowest common denominator, right?

Wrong, as Electronic Arts found out this week, as its "Sin to Win" promotion for the upcoming "Dante's Inferno" inspired an enormous amount of backlash which eventually forced the company to apologize for the whole scheme.

The Cliff Notes version of the promotion is that EA was encouraging Comic-Con attendees to "Commit acts of lust" with "booth babes" (by which they simply meant "take a picture with a booth babe") and then tweet a photo link to the Dante's Inferno development team's feed with a #Lust hashtag appended. The grand prize, according to the flyer handed out at Comic-Con, was a "night of lust" with two of said booth babes (by which they meant a chaperoned dinner).

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The backlash followed pretty quickly on the heels of the promotion's announcement and from all directions. Gamers,feminists, and marketers all seemed to agree that this idea was pretty horrible.

The backlash against this promotion is a perfect example of how, in social marketing, you can indeed go broke underestimating the intelligence or moral fiber of your audience. While it's true that sex still sells (and probably always will), social marketing is less about appealing to people's basest instincts, and more about inspiring people's urges to create, share, or criticize. So, when gamers felt insulted by EA's promotion, rather than participating, they instead chose to criticize, and to share their criticism far and wide.

Gaming companies seem to fall into this trap fairly often; Sony had the most memorable example in recent history with its PSP flog that was written in a ridiculous faux-urban patois and utterly failed to elicit anything but brutal criticism. Gamers hate being underestimated or talked down to, and the lesson EA has learned here is that doing so in a social environment is a recipe for disaster.

EA's done right by social marketing before, though -- take for example its promotions for "Spore," where the company distributed the Spore Creature Creator months ahead of the game's release, and encouraged users to create creatures, record videos of them, and upload to YouTube. A million creatures were created in a single week.

It's vitally important that any social marketing program follow the best practices of the platform it's based on, and talking down to your audience is never a best practice. When EA appealed to its customers' intelligence and creativity rather than relying on crude gamer stereotypes, it was rewarded with an active and engaged audience, and one of the best-selling PC games of all time.

2 comments about "EA Bombs With 'Lust'-Driven Promo".
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  1. Ted Simon from Ted Simon Consulting, July 31, 2009 at 6:32 p.m.

    Great observation that applies to games industry and beyond. It's a simple, clear and quick demonstration of how companies/marketers need to INTERACT with their audience, not force fit, pander, stereotype or talk AT them...lest they suffer an SM backlash.

    Also shows that even those who do it well can slip up some times. Just need to keep learning and try to be smarter next time.

  2. Josh Lovison from Josh Lovison Consulting, August 4, 2009 at 6:59 p.m.

    EA's efforts pale to the legacy of Acclaim.

    The two I remember best were the promotion for gravestone billboards: http://bit.ly/Wbj6y

    And the promotion to name your baby "Turok": http://bit.ly/20aGaY

    Best line from the latter article: "'We're giving birth to our biggest game, so it's a natural tie-in,' Lewis said."

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