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If the Sony Hack Was a Marketing Hoax, It Didn’t Pay Off

It’s telling that so many write off one of the most public and damaging corporate hackings thus far as a marketing stunt. Real careers, opportunities, and relationships have been strained or ruined in the wake of the Sony hack, yet many people remain skeptical that the cyber attack was an attack at all. Information has since risen that fortifies both the theory that the Sony hack was indeed a cyber attack, and that it was likely an inside job. Still, some maintain that Sony orchestrated the whole debacle in an elaborate attempt to drive awareness and sales for The Interview.

Marketing technology and tactics have reached unprecedented levels of sophistication and customer relevance, yet hoax marketing is still employed enough to drive cynicism. Things are improving quickly, but the marketing industry isn’t far removed from the Ryan Holiday’s of the world in the eyes of the general population. Indeed, musicians and music marketers have become notorious for leaking material—a practice that appeals to scandal, at least in part. It’s an issue as old as the PR stunt itself, but it’s unlikely that Sony’s cyber woes were a ruse to drive interest in a (formerly) low-profile comedy flick.

In its opening weekend during the holidays, The Interview raked in about $15 million from domestic digital rentals and streaming, and about $2.8 million in ticket sales at U.S. theaters, Reuters reports. At $18 million, The Interview wasn’t far off original opening forecasts of $20 million. This doesn’t include the 1.5 million people who pirated the film within 48 hours.

These are impressive figures for proponents of digital distribution. However, these numbers are quite dismal relative to the amount of social conversation revolving around the Sony hack. Hashtags relating to Sony and The Interview trended worldwide for days. The hashtags #TheInterview and #Sony reached a combined 10,000,000 users on Twitter on December 28 alone, according to data from social conversation tracking service Keyhole. We’re talking tens of millions of people who neither paid, nor pirated this film.

Given the reported $40 million production budget for the film (sans marketing), and the mounting costs associated with the cyber attack, a $20 million domestic opening isn’t too impressive. If Sony orchestrated this mess, it did so at extortionate costs.

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