Microsoft courts trouble with viral marketing push

Microsoft is courting controversy over its viral marketing campaign for the Xbox360 game Perfect Dark Zero (PDZ).

In the viral ad campaign, created by digital agency AKQA, US visitors to a game-related website are invited to provide the name and e-mail address of a friend whom Joanne Dark, the female assassin star of the game, will “take care” of. The friend then receives an e-mail with a video attachment showing a body on a mortuary slab, the final image being a toe-tag with their name on.

The Perfect Dark Zero viral is similar to a campaign run by television channel Five to promote the UK launch of the CSI: New York TV series. As part of the campaign, 50,000 consumers were e-mailed the address of a website where they were able input e-mail addresses of friends who then received a viral containing mock-up newspaper stories in which someone with their name is victim of a serial killer.

The CSI: New York campaign also featured a direct mail execution that informed recipients they were being stalked by a serial killer, alongside images of bruised and beaten corpses.

Five was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after numerous complaints about the direct mail campaign. No complaints were received about the viral e-mail, but the ASA remit does cover virals that are distributed by a company or its agents.

In the US, AKQA staff are already sending friends and contacts the link to the Perfect Dark Zero website in order to activate the viral, while a print ad campaign by McCann Erickson is designed to drive traffic to the site.

The game has yet to be launched in Europe, and it is unclear whether Microsoft will be using the same viral approach.

v The ASA’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the body which creates the self-regulatory codes governing advertising, was supposed to discuss tightening up the rules on viral ads at its meeting in September.

However, CAP decided it needed more information, so it has set up a working party to examine the issues involved. The working party is preparing a report that will form the basis of a resolution to be considered by CAP next month.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here