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When a Publicity Stunt Goes Terribly Wrong
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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I'm a flack. I'm not a scientist. Although I do have a Ph.D., I have no clue how to refute Newton's Law of Motion, or the Law of Gravity for that matter. That said, I do understand that if something goes up, it has to come down.

Whether it's a rock thrown in the air or a plane running low on gas, if it ain't a bird, it's coming back to Earth. Consider a throng of helium balloons let loose on the San Francisco horizon that sprawled over the bay recently, as shared by CNET.com. Of course, helium weighs less than air, but you know that stuff doesn't last like back in the day of head rushes and a cheap high. (I read books on the subject.)

Just ask Gamestop, who apparently released 10,000 of these ruby-red devices of marketing love, each with its own missive about the upcoming "Homefront" video game at the Game Developers Conference. It seems the environmentalists in San Francisco got a little jittery when these promotional luft balloons ended up in the Bay, threatening the very ecosystem of the West Coast. (Well, that may be a little hyperbole, but they were pissed nonetheless.)

"Your recent aerial spamming stunt in San Francisco was appalling and absolutely outrageous," a Facebook user named Teresa Aguilera wrote on GameStop's page. "Latex is biodegradable only after six months, which means the people and wildlife of San Francisco will be reminded of your irresponsibility far after the 'buzz' has faded away for you and your heinous video game."

But wait, there's more:

And an Oakland artist named Camron Assadi said he wrote to GameStop with this message: "The idiots in your marketing department released hundreds of red balloons to promote a video game at GDC. Now those balloons are trash in the Bay. What are you going to do about it? Do you have a boat out there collecting this trash?"

Gamestop took umbrage to the fingers being pointed at them, so they did what most grown folk do in an unforeseen crisis: they gave a couple of fingers to someone else. In this case, the game's manufacturer, THQ.

"We understand the concerns consumers have regarding the impact balloons can have on the environment," GameStop said in the statement. "However, the balloon drop stunt in San Francisco was created by THQ, the publisher of Homefront, and GameStop had no prior knowledge of it. THQ has since informed us that they released soy-based, biodegradable balloons.

Yeah! So suck it, THQ. What'cha got?

"The balloons that were released are completely biodegradable," said Julia MacMedan, vice president of corporate communications for THQ. "They start the process of biodegrading as soon as they're blown up with the helium. There should not be any environmental concerns."

As we all know, perception is reality in this business. You would think someone would have perceived that although the scent of hippie lettuce was hazing over the metropolis, there was a small gaggle of vociferous folk who consider this environment thing something serious. Dumping anything in the Bay would probably not be a good idea, but there they are, just sitting on the dock of the bay...wasting time.

You know? Kinda like the people behind this publicity stunt.


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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