What Were They Thinking?

by Jay Deragon on 01/20/2008

What Were They Thinking?Sometimes when you read the news you have to ask yourself “What were they thinking?”This is becoming a common reaction to users of social networks as they read about what traditional business mindsets, especially those who mange PR, do and say as a reaction to possible threats to their brand by users and application developers within social networks.

Wendy Davis writer for MediaPost, comments: “It’s been one week since news first broke that Scrabble owner Hasbro was complaining to Facebook about Scrabulous, the online version of the game that’s available as an application on the social networking site.”

“In that week, more than 30,000 Facebook members have rallied to the game’s defense, joining Save Scrabulous Facebook group.”

“The game, developed by two brothers in India, is similar enough in look and feel to the board game that Scrabble is griping its intellectual property is being infringed. But, while that may be the case, it’s not clear that Hasbro or Mattel (which owns the rights to the game abroad) is being hurt here.”
“Consider, quite a few people are saying that Scrabulous spurred them to purchase copies of the board game. “A few friends and I, all Scrabulous players, recently bought three Scrabble games … I think you are shooting yourself in the foot, if you try to squash the best free marketing campaign Scrabble has ever seen,” wrote one.”

“Others chimed in with their own reasons why Scrabulous is a boon to Hasbro. “I think Scrabble should be thankful for Scrabulous. Now there is an entire generation addicted to it,” one argued.”

“Yeah, the infringement is obvious, but so is the concept of not annoying your fans!” wrote another. Facebook isn’t talking, but, as of Friday morning, neither has the company removed the application. That indicates to some observers that Facebook is in talks with Hasbro and Mattel (which owns the rights to the game abroad). Some sort of settlement is the only resolution that makes sense here.
As with music or video, free exposure can be invaluable in building fans.

In 2006, shortly after CBS made clips of TV shows available on YouTube, the network said that ratings increased. “The Late Show with David Letterman” drew 200,000 new viewers, a 5% increase, after CBS placed clips of the show on YouTube, while “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” increased its viewership by 100,000, or 7%.

It’s not surprising that people who’ve played Scrabulous would then go out and buy Scrabble. And it also won’t be surprising if removing it from Facebook results in a loss of interest when users are forced to find other online games to play.

Mobilizing or polarizing consumer opiniions and reactions has never been so instantaneous as what happens within social networks. In the past a business could simply pull a bad ad on TV or replace a print ad quickly in time for the next publication release. While press release get promulgated throughout the web until the social web came on the scenes the conversations concerning what companies say and do was limited, contained and risk were manageable.

Hasbro, an old company run by old business rules, reactions in the story above is but one example of 1) the conversational power of the social web and 2) the lack of understanding that power by traditional business minds.

Even with the profile of the Scrabble story the real message will not be heard by many businesses until they step on the “power cord of conversations” enabled by the social web. When we ask “What were they thinking? the answer is they weren’t because they don’t understand“.

What say you?

{ 3 comments }

George January 21, 2008 at 11:05 pm

Just like the posed question, the eMpHaSis may be important:
WHAT, were they thinking?
What WERE they thinking?
What were THEY thinking?
What were they THINKING?
-and risking my own infringement:
“Got PERSPECTIVE?” (yet)

This situation is an all too familiar knee-jerk response within a stove-pipe/silo frame of reference. Until the company, the gamers, and the pundits (etc.) each understand all the implications and impacts, collect their diverse thoughts, and converge a viable consensus that equitably represents all concerned – someone will not be well served.

The very same ‘power cord of conversations’ may act as a power conduit, bull whip, tripping hazard, and any of several other functions to the service – or demise – of several – simultaneously. The social web can be a powerful tool or an attractive nuisance (electricity gives light/causes death). Until THEY all participate (equitably) in the analysis, they can not (equitably) participate in the benefits.

“The Other Guy’s Mind – it’s a terrible thing to waste!”

Hesz Roland January 20, 2008 at 9:26 am

When we ask “What were they thinking? the answer is they weren’t because they don’t understand“.

And the same applies to us bloggers a lot of the times.
We say stuff, write stuff without knowing what the legal background, what the laws are.
Voicing an opinion based on ideals and rumours, not on facts.

Hesz Roland January 20, 2008 at 9:24 am

I would say check out the site of Shel Hotlz where he explains why Hasbro MUST do this.

http://blog.holtz.com/index.php/weblog/blame_the_law_not_the_lawyers/

As Shel Holtz writes:
Companies lose the right to defend a trademark if they don’t take action against any and all violations of which they are aware.

So if they don’t act on this event, then from then on, everyone can use Scrabble, sell it, rip it off, and so on.

Blame the law, not the lawyers.

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