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.