Don’t Do a Sony

Here’s something you never want to have to post on your blog: “Busted. Nailed. Snagged. As many of you have figured out … Peter isn’t a real hip-hop maven and this site was actually developed by Sony.”

That’s what Sony ended up posting after a badly bungled attempt at creating the illusion of a third party blogger who was posting raves about PlayStation®Portable. The above post roughly translates to: “We tried to dupe you. We underestimated your intelligence, and you caught us. Oops, and sorry.”

Direct marketers have long known that testimonials are persuasive. That’s why most direct response print ads, infomercials and long-format TV spots pile on testimonials from “satisfied customers” and resort to (admittedly fallacious) arguments like, “Millions of happy customers can’t be wrong.”

It is a common practice for marketers to write testimonials for and on behalf of satisfied customers, with customers agreeing after the fact to have “said” what was written.  You may or may not agree that the practice is ethical or harmless.

Taking the practice a step further, some advertisers pen fictional quotes from fictional customers. A fake blog, or flog, is arguably the inevitable if not natural next step.

I’ll leave it to you to judge the morality of creating a flog to promote products. But if you decide to proceed, do it well. Sony did not. For one thing, Sony’s ad agency Zipatoni didn’t bother hiding the fact that they owned the URL. I’d love to tell you that that was an act of openness and integrity on Zipatoni’s part, but alas, it appears to have been an oversight. Else, why would the supposed writer post one vociferous denial after another in response to commenters who, clearly onto the ruse, repeatedly challenged the flog’s authenticity? Moreover, the wannabe hip-hop rhetoric came up short in the authenticity department, insulting readers’ intelligence and making Sony look all the more out of touch.

Even Sony’s apology was a bit presumptuous: “Guess we were trying to be just a little too clever. From this point forward, we will just stick to making cool products, and use this site to give you nothing but the facts on the PSP.” Note to Sony: An apology wrapped around a boast smacks less of an apology and more of, well, a boast.

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