Using Shaggy to stand out

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

With the holiday buying season approaching, all manner of technology companies are vying to get the public to pay attention to their products. There are many ways for them to get the word out - advertising, word of mouth, and of course, the media. The problem is, technology journalists (including us) get bombarded with press releases on a daily basis, much more so in the lead-up to Christmas.

For tech companies, it's getting harder and harder to have your particular product or bit of news stand out and not get lost in the shuffle. After all, tech journalists are swamped with e-mails - as well as a few old-school printed paper press releases - pitching new products. After a while, they all start to look the same.

So what's a tech purveyor to do? As is pretty clearly the case this year, they are getting more creative in trying to capture the media's attention.

Most creative so far is Microsoft with an interesting approach at marketing its new Xbox 360 game, Gears of War II. Earlier this week, I received a call from Microsoft's PR folks, who told me they had a surprise to deliver. Okay, fine - my curiousity was piqued. So this morning I got a call from our security desk telling me I had a visitor. I went down to the CBC lobby expecting a PR flak to hand me some sort of promo material for something or other, but was instead greeted by a shoddily-dressed, unkempt man who looked like he had just spent the night in the gutter. In a gravelly voice, he asked me to confirm my identity, which I did, after which he started spouting off some gibberish about how "we will rise again on November 6" to "stave off the apocalpyse," or something to that effect. He then asked, "Do you understand?" and I said "uh-huh." He dropped a heavy metal cog into my hand, then turned around and left, leaving me somewhat bemused and bewildered. The cog, of course, is emblamatic of Gears of War and had the game's website address stamped on it, so it was pretty obvious what his job was.

His purpose, however, was less clear. Gears of War II will definitely be one of the biggest video games released for the holiday season, and it's pretty safe to say we'll be writing about it. A visit from an actor playing a post-apocalyptic version of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo was entirely unnecessary (is that something he can put on his resume?). Gears of War was one of those products that will sell itself, so was the expense and trouble really worth it? Then again, maybe it was - we've just devoted a blog post to it, after all.

Other examples of creative press releases include Motorola, which recently sent us a comic book starring a bunch of superheroes pushing its cellphones. Then there was Roots, the clothing retailer, which sent over a toolbox filled with items intended to illustrate a theme of rugged manliness - which is how the company is branding its protective rubber cellphone covers. The toolbox contained a copy of Maxim magazine, some Montreal Steak Spice, and a pair of underwear. Wonderful - just what every tech journalist needs.