February 09, 2009

How Not to Manage Your Image

Almost six years ago, the kings of all gamer geeks, Penny Arcade, posted this comic.

It poked fun at the idea that American McGee had, in two games (Alice and the never-completed Oz), gone from highly innovative game design to shtick. Here was a man who would turn all of the icons of innocent childhood into the stuff of nightmare if only given a chance. And how better to symbolize innocent childhood than to use Strawberry Shortcake?

American Greetings, which owns Strawberry Shortcake and all her friends (so much for innocent childhoods), didn't get it. This is where the comic used to be, and this is what went up on the Penny Arcade news page:

If you have any questions about why, feel free to raise them with Rinda E. Vas, Corporate Counsel for the American Greetings Corporation.

We're currently trying to figure out exactly how the concepts of Parody and Satire work to protect the sorts of things we do, to better arm ourselves against this kind of crap. Virtually everyone believes that what we did is protected, indeed, I believe that myself - but I'm not going to bet the farm on it until I have a bit more than Internet hearsay to back myself up with.

Pity, but it looks like a win for American Greetings.

Except that the image is freely and easily available in multiple places online. Some fan or another had saved a copy, because, really who wouldn't? So the image moves around the web. Get an order to take it down somewhere; put it up somewhere else. It's always available. (Feel free to save a copy--click for the larger version--since American Greetings may not read to the end of this post.)

In the meantime, American Greetings pissed off the fans of Penny Arcade. That would be the same Penny Arcade that runs PAX (Penny Arcade Expo), a convention of gamers that drew almost 60,000 attendees last year. The Penny Arcade that can get 38,000 readers to fill out a demographic survey. Also the Penny Arcade that organizes Child's Play, a charity that pulled in $1.4 million in 2008.

These people are devoted, willing to mobilize, Wikipedia savvy and have money to spend. And they don't like American Greetings. In case I still need to say it, I don't like American Greetings, and I'm happy to tell anyone why. I don't give them my money either. It takes a little longer to find a card sometimes, but it's worth it.

This is, of course, only the most entertaining example I know of in which a company shot themselves in the foot by trying to control who can talk about them and how. There are plenty more, particularly in this day and age. The electronic landscape is such that even when someone complies with a cease-and-desist order immediately, the information is still out there. It's cached on someone's computer, or it's been syndicated. It doesn't go away.

What does go away is restraint. The internet isn't known for being a great repository of the stuff, but what there is disappears very quickly when someone finds out that one of their favorite bloggers or artists has been threatened with lawyers. People, in fact, get downright defiant.

The latest example is at Bad Science. Ben Goldacre had posted the audio of an LBC Radio presenter making an ass of herself about MMR vaccinations. LBC sent a cease-and-desist letter or the equivalent, and now the audio is everywhere but Bad Science. Oh, and there's a nice little write-up on Wikipedia too. It's all exactly as one would expect.

Do you think they'll ever learn?


Anonymous said...

Great post.

Yes, they'll learn - but by that time, times will yet again have moved on and the public will be operating by new rules we can't even imagine today...

Anonymous said...

Have you been arrested yet?

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks, Felicia. Yeah, the people in charge of enforcing the rules are always a bit behind the rules themselves. That's probably a good thing--until they start using the rules indiscriminately without understanding what will actually happen.

Greg, nothing yet, but they've seen it.

Colin M said...

This phenomenon is so common on the internet that it has a name (and of course, a Wikipedia article):


"The Streisand effect is a phenomenon on the Internet where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized."