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Activision as the anti-Metallica: The art of dealing with leaks and not attacking your fans

Activision suffered a setback in its marketing efforts when a leaked trailer for the next Call of Duty game was released into the wild two days before it was scheduled to go live. Even worse was the fact that leaked trailer was a version of the content that was cut for another market.

There was a huge promotional effort that included an official release of the trailer, magazine covers and other forms of advertising that had to be rethought, and suddenly the company was placed in a position where they had lost control of the messaging around the game.

This isn’t the first time Activision has been put in that situation, and Eric Hirshberg, the CEO of Activision Publishing, has learned how to handle it well. Their approach makes the company seem like a sort of anti-Metallica, since the focus is placed squarely on not fighting back against the fans.

Making lemonade

"We’ve gotten very good at making lemonade out of the lemons. They’re still lemons, though," Hirshberg said. He had received the call that the trailer had been leaked as he left a restaurant. They were forced to move quickly.

"The answer usually is don’t try to push against it, don’t try to go out to the wild and try to put these fires out and just pour gasoline on them. Any other day if you got a call saying ‘hey, a bunch of people are online talking about your game,’ you’d be high-fiving," Hirshberg  said. "That’s what you want, people enthusiastically passing around links and talking about the game." The problem is leaks of this nature kill the carefully orchestrated publicity blitz, although there are some upsides to content getting out in this manner.

"Sometimes the fact that it’s a leak can actually intensify that sharing because people feel like they’re getting something illicit," he continued. "But it’s never something we plan or aim for. We try to make the best of it when it happens."

"We’ve gotten very good at making lemonade out of the lemons. They’re still lemons, though"

"There are a lot of industries that don’t suffer leaks, and it’s because they don’t make a product where people can’t wait to see what move you’re going to make. It’s hard to complain about consumer enthusiasm," Hirshberg stated.

They don’t have any data on what leaks of this type do for sales, because there’s no way to set up a negative control group. No "absence" of the leak to compare sales against. The trick is to see the situation from the point of view of the people who are interested in the material.

"What would you want us to do right now if you were one of our fans?" Hirshberg asked. That’s the question they ask themselves when trying to formulate a response.

"Whenever you get into a situation where the company goes all silverback gorilla on its fans and tries to get them to take down links and take things off people’s YouTube pages … it doesn’t make any sense. If people are enthusiastic about your product, help them," he said.

"The best thing we can do is to take the dialog back to one that’s between us and our players, and not our players and the leakers. We have the content, we have the cadence of things we want to release, so what we try to do as soon as possible is have our official assets be the ones that people are passing around."

So instead of trying to regain control of the situation and fight the Youtube videos  and links to coverage, they just floor the Internet with the correct version of the trailer and marketing materials. The carefully laid plan is all but thrown out, but it’s better than trying to attack and suppress the people who are talking about the game.

"It was a little messy, but it turned out okay," Hirshberg said. Game play was shown at E3, to an enthusiastic reception.

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