SI Social: Hitman Social Media Game Shows How To Do It Wrong

December 5th, 2012 by Colette Bennett

Social media is a fairly new medium, so it’s no surprise that people gaffe from time to time when they try to execute it right. Of course, there’s a varying degree of severity between “Whoops, I posted the wrong link!” to “Oh my, I’ve done something so bad that I need to dig a hole and crawl in.” You might expect the latter from individuals or smaller companies, but when a big company slips on that level, it comes as a bit of a shock. And that is just what happened yesterday when the enormously high profile video game publisher Square Enix tried to use a Facebook game to promote their newest title in the Hitman game series.

Since the game itself depicts the adventures of an assassin, the Facebook game in question was a social device that allowed you to “put a hit” on friends. That’s already a little weird, but with the right comedic twist, I can see the potential for it. However, the faux pas came in the form of a drop down box that allowed you to specify the reason for the hit. The list included PC-unfriendly motivations such as “her muffin top” and “her bad hair,” but took the cake with “her small tits,” which is not only inappropriate language but sexist as hell to boot. Men weren’t left out of the insult war either, as “tiny penis” was also an option.

As expected, social media exploded over the app — in exactly the opposite way that Square intended. The app was pulled within hours, apologizing and they issued a statement saying they did not mean to offend their audience. The campaign was created by Emmy-award winning ad agency Ralph, who apparently don’t that cruelly making fun of people before shooting them in the face with a sniper rifle is much of an objection given the game’s “mature” audience.

Epic fail doesn’t even begin to describe the debacle here. While the newness of social media has made it a necessity for businesses to figure out how to connect with their consumers, it also means a lot of wandering into the creative unknown — which can yield stellar results or a landmine of bad PR. I keep trying to wrap my brain around how anyone greenlighted this thing, and no matter what angle I come at it from, I still can’t get a handle on it. Kudos to Square-Enix for reacting with lightning speed, removing the app less than an hour after it appeared, but how did it even get that far in the first place?

If you are trying to think of ways to use Facebook to engage your client that are cool but not over the top, it’s best to have a checklist handy. “No racial, ethical, or sexist slurs” is probably a great place to start, followed by “know your target audience.” In this case, sadly, the target audience MAY have found this app funny, as the 2011 demographic for gaming shows that 53% of the people playing games are between the ages of 18-54. In other words, lots of teenagers that might not think twice about picking on a classmate for physical flaws. Sexism in gaming has recently drawn huge amounts of criticism over the rampant and violent misogyny that the medium and its consumers have tacitly encouraged for years. The fact that the company was willing to put their seal of approval on such a blatant example of juvenile asshattery shows that they’re tragically out of touch with the contemporary climate — not to mention ignorant of the disastrous PR effects on a brand that wading into these issues can provoke.

What do you think about Square Enix’s slipup? Can you think of any other social media disasters that have caused you to facepalm at the speed of light?

(Image via Kotaku.)