As one of the world’s most recognisable brands you would think that the electronics giant Sony had all the bases covered when launching a new product.
When that product is the much-anticipated and delayed debut of the PlayStation 3 console then you would expect the global corporate machine to move into overdrive and everything would be done with a slickness that would have rivals casting envious glances.
But the weekend launch in Japan of the next generation video game console has largely brought negative coverage and comment. This comes on top of the criticism at the continued delays in the console’s launch, plus the debacle of the worldwide recall of hundreds of thousands of Sony-manufactured laptop batteries amid safety concerns.
In many respects, the last few months have been a salutory lesson for all global brands. The Sony machiney has only really spluttered into life and proved cumbersome in the wake of the laptop battery recall – the fact that other global brands such as Dell and Apple were badly affected but acted quickly and decisively merely reinforced Sony’s failings.
Having already seen main console rivals Microsoft and Nintendo steal a march on them with their own new product launches, Sony should have ensured the launch of PS3 went without any sort of hitch.
However, Sony has again been caught flat-footed. The BBC coverage of the PS3 launch typifies the overall media response (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6142576.stm) where the main story tends to focus on the immediate “grey market” that has sprung up around the console.
In Japan, businessmen eyeing a quick profit have reportedly paid homeless Chinese immigrants up to £90 to queue for them and purchase the £270 consoles. Within minutes the PS3s are being advertised as “second-hand” and sold for upwards of £650 – an instant £300-plus profit.
The fact that the launch in Japan – Sony’s heartland – only involved a reported 80,000 consoles has also drawn understandably fierce criticism.
The coverage proves that the old adage “all publicity is good publicity” is a fallacy. Indeed, in the case of Sony’s recent experience, another old saying springs to mind – the bigger you are, the harder the fall.
Sony’s all-important brand reputation has taken a real battering this year and proves that no matter how well-established you are in your market, no matter how secure you feel, no matter how loyal consumers are to your brand, any hint of complacency will be seized upon by your rivals.
It will also be used as a tool in the media to continually chip away at that all-important reputation.
More importantly, perhaps, that customer loyalty can only be tested so far.
Not surprisingly, Sony’s share value has tumbled in the wake of the PS3 delays, the successes of Microsoft and Nintendo and the laptop battery recall.
A good initial sales period for the PS3 could see that value rise back up again. But the big question is how much damage has been done to Sony’s brand reputation?
These days brand recognition is everything and if it is associated with criticism, negativity and failure, then that damage could be impossible to repair, even for a global player like Sony.