Few constants are still true with regards to modern society and technology. What is unequivocal? That we like to broadcast our opinions and the internet gives us the perfect platform to reach a loud crescendo. That is, if we’re on the “right” side of the discussion. Those that harness that predictability end up the winners over the long term.
The winners this time? Not terrorists. Not North Korea. Sony.
I’ve followed the controversy around Sony Pictures and The Interview with great interest, as many of us have. While much of my attention has been on the subject matter of the film and how it poorly reflects on western (or rather, American) society’s values and what we find “funny,” understandably, the discussion has been around the perceived warfare on our constitution rights. Specifically, the right to self expression.
Many took an affront to the actions of Sony: bowing down to the demands of terrorists by canceling the theatrical release of The Interview, a film that upset a very specific group overseas. Naturally, the conversation started to revolve around a fear that those rights were in jeopardy. But, honestly, were they ever? Was Sony truly going to take such a large-scale financial and reputational hit? Obviously not, as the movie is, “once more,” planned for launch this holiday.
- Sony couldn’t take the financial hit, anyway – Sony is a wounded company. For many years, its profits in the electronics industry have been bled dry by faster and more innovative competitors, namely Apple and Samsung. While Sony was on top in the 80s, a slow decline has become the story ever since. Recently, the company has reported multiple losses of a billion dollars or more. They’ve even had to sell skyscrapers to look good to shareholders! The stock, needless to say, is near a decades-long low. The only bright spot for the past year or so has been the PlayStation division. Sony’s reliance on this part of the company is obvious when you note that their newest CEO was an individual credited for championing the concept of the first ever PlayStation, just over two decades ago. Some publications have calculated Sony’s losses to be above $200 million if they had never shown The Interview. Would a public corporation ever make that kind of decision given their difficulties?
- Sony expected popular opinion and, most importantly, the United States government to turn on the North Korean government anyway – The last few days have confirmed Americans’ strong value of their constitutional rights and the American government’s ability to retaliate with force. The North Korean government knows how feeble their weaponry is, having their internet shut down over the course of a day.
- Sony are savvy social marketers and understand the power of the echo – I’d like to point your attention to a small video that Sony put together last year. This video shows how savvy the executives and marketing teams at the company really are at grabbing an unforeseen opportunity.
If you’re unfamiliar, this was the singular video which convinced many that Sony had “won” E3 2013. After Microsoft fumbled with policies that would have meant the end of buying used games or even borrowing them from your friends, Sony drove a dagger through Xbox’s momentum by reminding gamers of how friendly the PlayStation 4 would be. PlayStation would be the people’s choice, by default. Sony became the good guys, not because of anything special that they did, but by seizing upon negative popular opinion. Perhaps, you are already noticing some parallels to the situation with The Interview.
#TheInterview is now the most spoken about film of 2014, without a shadow of a doubt. This is not due to the quality of the movie or some ground-breaking ideas, its due to a situation that Sony had no hand in personally starting. Or, perhaps they did, and they used North Korea’s predictability to call attention to a movie that only cost $70 million to produce. The Interview is now on the radar of many of those who didn’t even know that it existed and would now like to see what the fuss was about. A younger audience is likely to give a long tail to the film’s profits when it launches digitally. Sony, a wounded company, is going to be able to surprise shareholders yet another time, giving it that much room to continue to rebuild the rest of the company.
Sony just wrote a brand new textbook on the concept of a marketing master class.