What the Sony Interview Hack Means for Digital Marketing

The-Interview-780x390We live in an interconnected world where data is constantly co-mingling with messaging.  It all sounds great as long as everyone is a good actor.  Unfortunately in our “new normal” we are quickly learning that data management has far reaching implications that can extend far beyond the initial intent of the data.

The Sony “Interview” hack is a classic example of this. If you’d like a timeline here is a pretty decent one created by Deadline Hollywood.

So here are some new rules that will apply to digital marketing when faced with a massive hack attack….

  1. When a hack is high profile enough it creates a media feeding frenzy.  Just look at how many stories the Hollywood Reporter has been able to write about this – the most recent being as of the time of this post that the movie is now on illegal file sharing sites.  Is this ultimately good or bad for Sony?  In this case it will likely net out as “good” but down the road when we see more and more of this happening I’d be less inclined to think the massive dump of confidential data will be given a free pass by the public.  How to market against a press tidal wave not of your own making?
  2. If your info gets out into the public, the media will report on it.  We’ll see this more and more – and I’m sure there will be plenty of digital blackmail opportunities that we won’t hear about.  PR/Marketing crisis waiting to happen.  Digital is the opening battleground – and in this case Sony even went out and started threatening the media and also those on Twitter that were sharing its info.  I’m not sure if this is even enforceable based on who you ask, but the prevailing opinion seems to be that this was a severe reach on Sony’s part.  In my opinion not only was it a reach, but I viewed this as a misstep in terms of how Sony might have lost an opportunity to garner more favorable opinion in the face of what is admittedly a hot mess.
  3. Digital platforms will continue to have an ever increasing role in how these types of stories are told, how the are distributed and ultimately how they are consumed.  Citizen journalism is about to have a massive renaissance.  Hold on tight marketing team!
  4. Your competitors will be aggressively scraping your info.  And so will the investor community.  These are competencies that effective digital marketers know very well – in an environment like this I’d be hard pressed to imagine that the marketing teams of Sony’s competitors were not in some way trying to learn more about Sony.
  5. You are all alone.  Notice how none of the other studios stepped up to defend Sony.  And that was even with George Clooney stepping in to lobby otherwise – still crickets… This is big business and I’m pretty sure most industries would react the same way.  The story got out of control and folks were clearly nervous to go near it. Of course now that the President of the United States has weighed in perhaps some of the nerves have calmed down…
  6. The story will continue to live on, and will take new shapes and forms.  Get ready for all the GIFs and the memes that are about to float around.
  7. The story will continue to live on part 2 – get ready for all the parodies.  SNL is already on the case… there will be more – much more
  8. It will be up to marketing to try and do damage control on all the small pieces that come out, again based on what were supposedly private emails – and even worse only snippets of emails shared without any context.  Regardless the lives of Sony Pictures executives are officially in the fishbowl subject to an opinion by anyone willing to share one, and by sharing an opinion we are talking about going online and doing so… Enter the digital marketing team.
  9. Digital marketing will be tasked with fixing a great deal of this mess – so much of this story is playing out online, and I suspect that at a company of the size and stature of Sony, many of their core PR and marketing people don’t spend enough time online so they might not be as familiar with digital as is required – therefore the digital marketing team is probably owning a great deal of this.  Massive stress and I’m sure Sony will lose a few folks from their team by H2 2015 as a result of the crazy workload I’m sure they are under.
  10. Business must go in.  In this case Sony certainly embraced this by furiously reinventing the release schedule for this picture, including not only a limited screen release, but also a pretty aggressive online video on demand strategy (by the way if you read the headline of this article apparently the picture is not being supported on Sony PlayStation despite being offered on some competing gaming platforms).
  11. This story will continue to put Sony in damage control throughout 2015 – and likely there will be a new wave of leaks – again a massive headache for marketing, and also likely a playbook that other hackers will follow.
  12. Digital marketing teams will begin to start crafting worst case scenario contingency plans.  This was certainly a worst case… Totally uncharted waters and I get that it is hard to plan for such scenarios but I’m also sure that every studio in Hollywood is right now doing exactly that – hoping for the best but aggressively planning for the worst.

As the world continues to get further digitized we can unfortunately expect to see more unique events that require marketing to step in to provide cover for the organization, and further as in general businesses continue to embrace digital in an ever greater capacity for both distribution and communication we can naturally assume more of this specific burden will fall squarely on the shoulders of the digital marketing team. Hopefully everyone reading this never has to endure a scenario such as the one Sony Pictures is currently living through but just in case…

Particularly interesting for enterprise level companies, but sadly I’m also going to make a prediction that we’ll see some similar hacking behavior being applied to smaller businesses as well – while the impact might not be “global”, for those businesses the impact will certainly be no less acute.

Bottom line/key takeaways:

  • Do more to protect your data – everyone is vulnerable and hacking skills seem to be evolving to the point where this could easily become “hacking as a service” environment where every business could potentially be a victim.
  • Be more mindful about what you write – privacy is only privacy as long as it is private – once it leaks out into the public the concept of privacy disappears…
  • Have contingency plans in place.

Also, certainly feel free to add a few more ideas in the comments section.

David Gadarian on LinkedinDavid Gadarian on Twitter
David Gadarian

With deep expertise in both digital strategy, and the “online narrative” David has helped businesses of all sizes to better define and to further expand their digital footprint. Prior to entering the world of 2.0, David spent 15 years living in working in Los Angeles as a television producer where he set up projects at networks including CBS, NBC, FX, TNT, Showtime and Comedy Central.


David is currently employed at Dassault Systèmes as the Digital & Social Media Sr. Marketing Manager for North America. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are in no way affiliated with Dassault Systèmes, but rather reflect the personal views of David.


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