Red balloons litter the bay, a stoopid marketing campaign by Gamestop

A Wednesday afternoon promotion for a video game ended with a large number of balloons in the Bay. A barrage of emails soon followed, sent to a video game company and ccd to members of the media. The company, however, has disavowed all knowledge of the promotion, and those responsible claim the event was as eco-friendly as can be.

From: Camron Assadi
to: publicrelations@gamestop.com
cc metro@sfchronicle.com, editor@sfist.com, editor@sfappeal.com
subject GameStop mass pollutes the bay with toxic ad campaign, what are they going to do about it?

GameStop,

The idiots in your marketing department released hundreds of red balloons to promote a video game at GDC. Now those balloons are trash in the bay. What are you going to do about it? Do you have a boat out there collecting this trash?

Photos:
http://twitpic.com/45fnss
http://yfrog.com/h57vbxj
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekai/5492780516/in/photostream/lightbox/
http://yfrog.com/h59unwj

Was the first email (of many) we received today, all with a similar message, all with the same CC list. After contacting some of the emailers to make sure that their outrage wasn’t itself a PR stunt, we started working the phones.

Was the culprit, as the emailers claimed, video game store Gamestop? Like SFist, we weren’t immediately able to confirm that the store was responsible.

A SFist commenter, however, says that the balloon-releasing promotion, which you can see here, was instead the responsibility of local radio station Live 105 and video game company THQ. The station, it appears, sponsored the concert at which the balloons were launched, as part of a promotion for a game called Homefront.

Meanwhile, Assadi emails the Appeal, “This is marketing at its worst.”

And Jennifer Alexander, in an email to Gamestop on which the Appeal was ccd, says

“The ad campaign you unleashed on San Francisco is the height of irresponsibility. How do you justify littering the city and the bay with trash to generate a little PR? What are you going to do to remedy the situation? Are you sending out boats to clean up your mess? Did you even know that we are running out of helium? What you did is destructive and thoughtless. I suggest you fire your current ad agency and hire one with better less environmentally harmful ideas.”

Shortly thereafter, Gamestop released this statement:

We understand the concerns consumers have regarding the impact balloons can have on the environment. However, the balloon drop stunt in San Francisco was created by THQ, the publisher of Homefront, and GameStop had no prior knowledge of it. THQ has since informed us that they released soy-based, biodegradable balloons. Comments and queries should be directed to THQ media relations at 818-871-5125.

Response from the emailers was swift — Kevin Byall responded, ccing the Appeal:

Biodegradable??????
So now I see your FaceBook post about the balloons being biodegradable. Everything is biodegradeable if you give it long enough. How many wildlife deaths will occur during the 6 months it takes to biodegrade? And the tail? Was the tail or attachment biodegradable? This stuff doesn’t go away as soon as the balloon floats out of sight. Littering should have a fine attached to each item. How many balloons was it that you released. And don’t try to say it was THQ. That is like BP saying it’s Deepwater Horizons fault.

Epic Fail.

However, according to THQ spokesperson Julie MacMedan, the balloons have “no history of causing any environmental pollution,” and she says they’ve retained a clean-up crew to take care of “any potential lingering debris from the area.” (You can listen to her entire statement here.)

Is that enough to satisfy concerned San Franciscans, and, more importantly, is it enough to satisfy the City Attorney’s office, which typically goes after illegal or questionable marketing efforts?

City Atty’s Spokesperson Jack Song tells us that they are definitely aware of the situation, and that the Coast Guard is on the case. However, since most of the balloons are in the water, not on city property, they don’t have jurisdiction.

“But if something happens and we do have jurisdiction” Song says, if they need to, they “will go after those polluters.”

Cnet spoke with a rep from the Marine Mammal Center who noted that “It’s biodegradable over time, but a bird can still get entangled in it right now… Biodegradable takes time to happen.”

Assadi, for one, still thinks it stinks. “It doesn’t matter if their balloons are really biodegradable or not, and and that the term “biodegradable” is like “natural” – it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s still litter.”

“Tossing thousands of balloons with ads into the air and into the bay is not any way to target a potential gaming customer,” Assadi says.

“Unless fish and birds are who they are trying to reach, I would call this campaign a total dud. At best a few people might catch the ad off the balloon, but I guarantee none of them are going to drive to a GameStop retail location to buy a plastic disc with a game on it.”

Photo: Eddie Codel

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the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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  • fsharp

    There is no such thing as soy-based biodegradable balloons.

  • sunnysunset

    [the balloons have "no history of causing any environmental pollution"]