Controversial Campaigns

When YouTube launched in 2005, it helped spark a firestorm of viral marketing. Sony wanted in on the action, so they hired an advertising firm called Zipatoni to create a website called “All I Want For Xmas Is PSP.” They wanted it to look like it was a fan-made site, featuring intentionally misspelled posts like the following:

here's the deal::: i (charlie) have a psp. my friend jeremy does not. but he wants one this year for xmas. so we started clowning with sum not-so-subtle hints to j's parents that a psp would be teh perfect gift. we created this site to spread the luv to those like j who want a psp! consider us your own personal psp hype machine, here to help you wage a holiday assault on ur parents, girl, granny, boss — whoever — so they know what you really want. we'll let you know how it works for us. pls return the favor.

They also treated us to this atrocious faked attempt at viral video:

A link on the site encouraged readers to print out an ad that read “This is not an ad. It’s a reminder...that someone close to you wants a PSP for Xmas.” Turns out the whole site was just a giant ad, and Sony had plenty of egg on their face when their transparent viral attempt was revealed. After getting busted, Sony tried to recover by posting this message on the site:

Busted. Nailed. Snagged. As many of you have figured out (maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh???), Peter isn’t a real hip-hop maven and this site was actually developed by Sony. Guess we were trying to be just a little too clever.

Owning up to a mistake usually helps, but their admission didn’t make the attempt any less embarrassing.

Sony placed billboards in the Netherlands in 2006 that featured a white woman grabbing a black woman by the jaw, with the line “Playstation Portable White is Coming.” The company defended these ads by saying they were meant to showcase the contrast between the colors, but that didn’t make the image any less questionable.

In late 2005, Sony paid graffiti artists to tag walls in seven U.S. cities with PSP-centric images. This resulted in the company receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the city of Philadelphia. Angry residents also painted over the ads, with messages like “Fony” and “I’ll teabag a mime before I give the Sony corp another ****in dime.”

In the UK, Sony advertised PSP with a series of posters that featured red lettering on a white background. One read "Take a running jump here," and was placed in London subway stations. Fearing it would inspire suicide jumps onto train tracks, transit employees covered them up with tape before Sony eventually brought them down.

Sony may have crashed and burned when it came to their viral marketing attempts, but surely they could handle standard TV ads...right? While not overtly offensive, many called out the commercials featuring squirrels and talking dust balls for sounding like racial stereotypes. Plus, there was the whole thing about the spots not being funny at all.