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Don't be this guy

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Mark Suszko
Don't be this guy
on Jan 3, 2012 at 8:09:00 pm

There are some fundamentals in marketing and business that remain timeless. One of those includes truisms about customer relations.

Last week saw an epic example of how getting this little aspect wrong can have far-reaching consequences.

If you have a few hours to kill, google up the story of Paul Cristofaro, "Ocean Marketing", "Avenger Controller", and "Penny Arcade". "Epic" doesn't begin to cover it; this story will be grist for marketing class case studies for decades to come.

The Reader's Digest version:

A doctor who works with disabled kids creates a modification of the xbox game controller that enables you to play well, even with missing or impaired fingers. He finds during testing that the same modded controller, in the hands of able-bodied gamers, enables much more efficient and higher-scoring play, and so he decides to market the "Avenger" controller to the gaming community. He hires a company called Ocean Marketing to increase the product's buzz on web sites and social media networks. Everything looks primed for a typical internet success story.

Meanwhile, some kid gamer plunks down his advance money for a pair of these controllers, but they're delayed in shipping by Chinese customs and don't arrive on time for Christmas. He contacts Ocean Marketing to get some answers, and the owner of the company treats this kid like dog meat in return emails. Very angry and aggressive, even taunting, responses. The marketer tells the kid, in very poorly typed language with spotty grammar, that he's been on the internet since it's incepotion, is an expert in all things net-related, implies he has underworld ties in Boston, and that he has hundreds of minions employed as internet hackers and opinion-shapers, who can destroy any site he names, who can make anybody that crosses him rue the day. He claims to be a friend of all the industry high-rollers.

The kid, seeking only an actual shipping date and a 10-dollar rebate, says he's going to take his issue to a court of public opinion by contacting gaming magazines and web sites. And he does. one of the places he complains to is the web comic called "Penny Arcade", which is not just a highly popular and visible web comic centered on gaming culture, but also the owner/operators of at least two national-level trade shows for the gaming industry, called "PAX".
One of the Penny Arcade team contacts the Ocean Marketing rep to scold him a little bit and try to settle the kid's complaint.

The marketing rep unloads on the Penny Arcade founder with all manner of invective and implied threats, exactly as he did to the customer. Not until several emails have gone back and forth does the guy google the writer's name and realize he's talking to the actual owners of the upcoming trade shows he's counting on debuting his product at. Penny Arcade publishes the entire exchange to their worldwide audience.

Within 24 hours, Paul Cristofaro becomes the most hated and mocked man on the internet, has lost his job with the Avenger people, and is basically destroyed in terms of any job having anything to do with marketing, gaming, and the internet.

The moral, I guess, is twofold: The internet enables angry customers to strike back in new and powerful ways when they've been wronged. And internet marketing is not a good fit for people with anger issues. You never know who you're going to tick off when you lose your cool on the internet.

Something else that intrigued me about the case was the number of people that theorized this extreme case of bad press was engineered from the beginning as a viral marketing stunt to publicize the product by connecting it to a worldwide internet scandal.

If this was designed to be a viral campaign, it's got to be the worst value proposition I ever saw. Like Nero burning Rome to market condos or something. I think the viral marketing theory is a red herring, the real lesson is the customer is still always right, and you can't afford to mess with them and get away with it in our modern bubble world.

And perhaps the most ironically dangerous phrase ever used on the internet might be:

"Do you know who I am?"

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Nick Griffin
Re: Don't be this guy
on Jan 3, 2012 at 9:50:13 pm

Hey, I know Mark Suszko and have even spoken with him on the phone. So nobody better screw around with me!

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Mark Suszko
Re: Don't be this guy
on Jan 3, 2012 at 10:37:02 pm

Yes, but *I* know Mr. Zelin. Checkmate.:-)

Seriously, though, the whole "Do you know who I am" thing is such a double-edged sword.

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Shane Ross
Re: Don't be this guy
on Jan 4, 2012 at 1:33:25 am

[Mark Suszko] "Yes, but *I* know Mr. Zelin. Checkmate.:-)"

Dunno if that's a good bragging point. Might do more harm than good.


That guy musta been off his meds

Little Frog Post
Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def

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Jonathan Ziegler
Re: Don't be this guy
on Jan 4, 2012 at 6:05:57 pm

Wow, that is almost a textbook definition of "stunningly arrogant." I've had bad moments with clients, but I've never killed a product before it could even start.

Thanks for sharing!

Jonathan Ziegler

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