Any publicity is good publicity, or so they say. But after the furore that has erupted over what appears to be a stealth marketing campaign for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) in the US, Sony may have to rethink the marketer's maxim.
The Web site at the centre of the uproar is a cloyed fake blog titled www.alliwantforxmasisapsp.com.
The site's purported owner, who goes by the name of Charlie and describes himself as a "designer/artist/playa", supposedly created the site to convince his friend Jeremy's parents to buy him a PSP for Christmas.
In his informal English, Charlie writes in the blog: "we started clowning with sum not-so-subtle hints to j's parents that a psp would be teh perfect gift. we created this site to spread the luv to those like j who want a psp!" Charlie continues, "consider us your own personal psp hype machine, here to help you wage a holiday assault on ur parents, girl, granny, boss - whoever - so they know what you really want."
Despite the excessive use of Internet lingo, grammatical errors and absence of capitalisation, the blog could almost be passed off as legitimate.
That is, until the fishy stench of viral marketing starts to seep through as you scroll down the site and become inundated with obvious marketing props and amateur YouTube videos created by some disturbingly old-looking "kids" demanding PSPs for Christmas.
From iron-on PSP t-shirt transfers (modelled by Charlie's suspiciously attractive model-like friends no-less), to printable advertisements (adorned with the text "This is not an ad") promoting the PSP, the site's amateurish appearance is outweighed by the slew of Sony marketing hype.
But the final clincher arises after a simple query on WHOIS, a domain registration search engine, which shows the owner of the Web site as Zipatoni, a marketing company that counts PlayStation among its clients.
After a quick perusal of Zipatoni's site, it also appears that one of the above mentioned models on the blog is Zipatoni's Interactive Designer, adding further evidence against the poorly veiled stealth marketing campaign.
It's not the first case of a failed viral marketing campaign though and definitely won't be the last. In a similar case earlier this year, SanDisk launched a site called iDon't, which appeared to be a blog started by individuals opposed to Apple's domination of the portable music player market. After some investigation, it too turned out to be an advertisement mechanism for a newly launched SanDisk product.
Whether the PSP blog's intention was to create a tongue-in-cheek site or it truly is just a poorly veiled attempt at stealth marketing remains to be seen. What is clear though is the online community's disgust for the site, which has already attracted over 700 comments on the blog.
"This is retarded. As a gamer who is part of Sony's target audience I'm insulted not just by the integrity of this website, but that this reflects how intelligent Sony's marketing department thinks I am. Good job turning consumers off your product," reads one reply.
"Wow. Could you guys be any more blatant? Printing out a Sony PSP ad? Are you really counting on people to be that gullible? What an insult."
But even amongst all the overwhelmingly abusive comments, a couple optimistic reflections stand out too.
"Did you ever stop to think that MAYBE they wanted you to know this was a site created by an agency? I'm not trying to defend the site, but please try and maybe consider the fact that they knew any loser with a computer could easily look up who created the site," writes one reader.
And they raise a good point. If viral marketing is about getting people to notice a product and create noise, no matter how critical the response is, then it seems Sony may have succeeded.