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PR apocalypse: Watch a business self-destruct in just a few emails

Suppose you have a great business plan, a hot, innovative product that everyone wants, a lot of great buzz in the industry, and a slew of pre-orders for your next big thing? Ask yourself: How can I screw this up? Can I do it in just a couple of days, by sending just a handful of emails?

You bet. That's what happened to N-Control, a video game controller manufacturer that in the span of a few days went from a hot property to the most embarrassing corporate meme on the Internet. Search the web for "Avenger controller," "N-Control," or the company's PR rep, "Ocean Marketing,"  and the top results are now all about what is surely one of the worst marketing flame-outs in tech history.

Here's what happened. Back on Dec. 16, a pre-order customer checked in with Ocean Marketing to find out the status of the upcoming Avenger controller, as it appeared to be delayed with no relevant updates on the website. Ocean's Paul Christoforo responded with a cryptic two-word reply: Dec. 17. When the customer probed for clarity, things went downhill fast. Here are a few of the emails:

From: Dave

To: Ocean Marketing

Dec 19, 2011, at 11:02 AM

Thanks for the reply Paul. Can you clarify whether my particular order already sent or if Dec 17 was the first day shipments went out? I have not received any sort of shipping confirmation email or tracking information.

From: Ocean Marketing

To: Dave

Dec 19, 2011 11:21 AM

They still haven't shipped yet on the way here from china [sic]

From: Dave

To: Ocean Marketing

Dec 20, 2011 4:29 PM

So then delivery to customer doors by December 24th is no longer likely correct? Do you have an estimated date of when units will arrive in California? Thanks.

From: Ocean Marketing

To: Dave

Dec 20, 2011 5:11 PM

They are in the USA now in customs so its wither [sic] before or after Christmas.

From: Dave

To: Ocean Marketing

Dec 26, 2011, at 9:47 AM

I noticed the updated info on the webpage, and I don't understand why there is absolutely no benefit given to those like me who have already ordered, and paid their money. You've had my money interest free for nearly two months, yet now ANY new order will get $10 off....meaning I should just cancel my order for 2 controllers, get my money back, then re-order.

My other questions is regarding item compatibility. Ocean Marketing seems to be involved with the Xtendplay controller holder, so I was wondering if the Avenger N-Controller can be used in conjunction with the Xtendplay (for both Xbox and PS3)? Thanks

From: Ocean Marketing

To: Dave

Dec 26, 2011 10:14 AM

Yes it can be used with xtend play if you remove the stand and no one is allowed to cancel and re order if we catch anyone doing it we will simply just cancel your order all together and you can buy it retail somewhere else.

Things happen in manufacturing if your unhappy you have 7 days from the day your item ships for a refund. You placed a pre order just like any software title the gets a date moved due to the tweaks and bugs not being worked out and GameStop or any other place holds your cash and im sure you don't complain to activision or epic games so put on your big boy hat and wait it out like everyone else. The benefit is a token of our appreaciation for everyone no one is special including you or any first time buyer . Feel free to cancel we need the units were back ordered 11,000 units so your 2 will be gone fast. Maybe I'll put them on eBay for 150.00 myself. Have a good day Dan.

Perhaps you've noticed that at this point in the email exchange, Paul Christoforo doesn't appear to understand what "PR" is. He's surprisingly rude, going so far as to threaten to sell the customer's pre-ordered product on eBay. It gets weirder from there. When the customer threatens to complain about the bad customer support to the media, Christoforo welcomes the bad press, citing his connections in the industry.

And it gets better. When the email gets forwarded to one of the creators of Penny Arcade, an irreverent (and often NSFW) gaming website and organizer of the popular PAX gaming trade show, Christoforo continues to be unapologetically rude -- up to and including the moment that his company gets banned from PAX. My favorite moment -- when Christoforo figures out he's talking to a Penny Arcade owner, he cheerfully writes, "Love Penny Arcade!!", whereupon he gets this reply: "I'm glad you like it! You will be on it tomorrow."

From this point, things moved fast. N-Control fired Christoforo and Ocean Marketing, but not before Christoforo held the company's social media accounts hostage for several days. At press time, the N-Control Website was down, re-directed to Go Daddy's "parking" page. Did a rogue marketer torpedo an entire company? It's possible.

The entire email thread, through lengthy, is an entertaining (and educational) read. You can find it published in many sites, including Penny Arcade.

You can also watch an amusing video depiction of the debacle.

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