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Marketing

Published November 28th 2011

Dealing With Twitter Parody Accounts

A common phenomenon that has arisen from the advent of Twitter is the countless number of parody accounts mocking famous figures.

Often funny, sometimes cruel, these personas have often proved so popular that they have transcended the original celebrity in numbers of followers.

One such satire account is the much-loved @petermolydeux, based on the notoriously ambitious game developer, Peter Molyneux.

The legendary Lionhead game designer is widely known for his over-hyped promises that are not always delivered and his blue-sky, out-of-the-box thinking that almost always seems to involve tragedy, dreams or children.

An anonymous game developer took it upon himself to set up the parody Twitter profile, which last week was approaching 20,000 followers. The bio clearly stated the account was not maintained by the real Molyneux and the tweets themselves were ludicrous, sly and very often hilarious – here’s a selection of a few of them:

“Imagine a game where 3 pauses and it’s game over. The game plays door bells, ringtones etc trying to make you accidently pause the game”

“You know, my dream for gaming is where in one game you’ll shoot someone and then during a game of say FIFA you’ll see their son crying”

 “There are 206 bones in the human body? Imagine, just imagine a 206 multiplayer game where each person controls a bone?”

“You know in cut scenes when it says ‘3 months later…’? What if the game ACTUALLY locked your save file for 3 months?”

How did Lionhead respond to the account?

However subversive the tweets may have been, most of the followers must have been gamers to have even understood the satire and few would believe it was the real Mr Molyneux spouting such concepts. Last Thursday, the account was closed by Twitter following a direct complaint from Lionhead.

It’s surprising that big companies like Lionhead still manage to make such glaring mistakes in the social media realm, and the company has not fared well since making the decision to contact Twitter.

Tweets mentioning Lionhead in the wake of Molydeux’s suspension

Tweets mentioning Lionhead

This graph generated on Friday morning by Brandwatch shows the volume of mentions on Twitter specifically regarding Lionhead, the game developer headed up by Molyneux.

While fairly low in number of instances, this chart is useful as a representative in the type of pattern that could be amplified if the severity/influence of the event was increased. Interestingly the peak in positive mentions on the 14th and 15th are as a result of the @Molydeux posting of a humorous survival horror bowling game video.

More importantly, the news that the @Molydeux account had been suspended spread on the 23rd, resulting in a giant leap in negative mentions about Lionhead in general.

The @Molydeux profile holder was apparently never contacted by Lionhead to remove or modify his content, and it is surprising that Lionhead would be even interested in closing the account at all, considering the overwhelming positive sentiment generated from the Tweets.

Should companies be clamping down on this type of unsanctioned publicity?

A small amount of research can provide companies with the necessary data to come to such a decision. It is important to determine whether the tweets or comments are impacting the company in a meaningful way.

There’s a very realistic chance that even if an unsolicited blog appears to make fun of a company or person, that that sentiment is not necessarily reflected by its readers, yet can do a lot in increasing the brand’s visibility. Indeed, many such brands rely on this unusual Twitter visibility to foster huge, active fanbases: super popular Harry Potter personas and this typically British parody of the Queen provide good examples of unauthorised yet playful accounts actually boosting the popularity of a topic.

If the unofficial publicity generator is not having a positive effect upon the public perception of the brand, then it still may well be harmless. The cost of shutting down a well-received account can be more costly than allowing it to continue, as is the case with the @Molydeux saga.

@Slackerninja, Twitter User “*throws away Fable games* RT @deantak: Peter Molyneux parody account ‘Molydeux’ suspended by Twitter”

@Headfirst_Dom, Director at Head First Advertising “Too often, brands still want to push a message rather than just chew the fat with folk. Social isn’t broadcast.

@Michael_French,  Michael French, editor of Develop magazine via Twitter: “So it was Lionhead who stepped in originally. Dumb, dumb move…. Thinking that brands can be more powerful than people; trying to clamp down on something popular and not seeing why it is popular”

In this case, Lionhead paid a small price for not properly investigating the effect of the account’s existence and for not acting in reasonable way by failing to contact the holder. Future cases could be significantly worse if the account is more influential; some band or TV character parodies’ followers can number in the millions.

If anything is to be learned from Lionhead’s dealings with @Molydeux, then it’s that a little bit of thought and research can go a long way into determining the best course of action when dealing with these online phenomena.

 

 

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