Sony on the street

New York, NY, USA -- 05 December 2005 | Permalink
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This doesn't seem to be a good year for Sony. As if installing a rootkit on their customers' computers hadn't generated enough bad publicity, now they're drawing fire for a stencil and graffiti campaign.

In fairness to Sony, what they're doing apparently isn't street spam in its purest sense, as they're apparently paying for the space they use. The examples I've seen in my neighborhood are posted on scaffolding on construction sites, for which they presumably paid the owners (I'd be interested to know, however, what the laws are on this: does anyone who puts up scaffolding have the right to turn it into a billboard, and does anyone who owns a wall have the right to put an ad on it?)

Legal or not, it seems to be generating a backlash of ill-feeling, perhaps solely for their attempt to appropriate 'street culture' (whatever the hell that might be) for marketing purposes. It comes as no surprise that the actual graffiti art part has been contracted out to Tats Cru whose murals advertising products like the Hummer H3 and other redundant rubbish have always made me think of them as corporate whores of the first water. That may be harsh: it may be more accurate to see them as local boys who have made good by becoming an ad agency. But when I see a Tats Cru mural, I don't think 'edgy, dangerous counter-culture'. I think 'another paid ad trying to seem like edgy, dangerous counter-culture'. Which is pretty much the territory occupied by the Sony campaign, so I guess they're a natural fit.

In the interests of full corporate whore disclosure, I should say that I used to work for Sony and it was probably the best job I ever had. Part of that was the nature of my particular job, but part of it was simply that Sony seemed like a good company to work for. They were also a company that cared about the image that they projected, and tried hard to make it a positive one.

I still have a certain amount of good will towards Sony, which makes their current stumblings particularly painful for me. It's like watching an ex-partner who you still like and respect making an idiot of themselves at a party. I think that's sentimentality on my part, however. It would be wiser to remember that they are a multinational corporation and as such they will do what they think they can get away with. What's interesting about the present situation is that we're seeing Sony's carefully-cultivated veneer of 'niceness' quite quickly eroded by a couple of bad decisions. If that makes us all more cynical — or perhaps just more realistic — about Sony and other giant corporations, so much the better.