In a study from Stanford Graduate School of Business, researchers say in some cases negative publicity can increase sales when a product or company is relatively unknown, simply because it stimulates product awareness. Whereas a negative review in the New York Times hurt sales of books by well-known authors, for example, it increased sales of books that had lower prior awareness. That bad news isn't always bad for business has also been the case for Sony Pictures Entertainment’s recent film ‘The Interview’.
For PR and journalism, an interview is one of the most important methods used to collect information and present views to the public. In the film the interview is a method to commit a murder: The film stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists instructed to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after booking an interview with him. This film has since been linked with one of the worst cyberattacks ever on an American company. Everything and anything had been taken by a group calling itself ‘Guardians of Peace’: Contracts, salary lists, film budgets, medical records, social security numbers, personal emails and five entire films. In December 2014 the ‘Guardians of Peace’ threatened terrorist attacks against cinemas that played ‘The Interview’. Due to this, Sony canceled the theatrical release of the film. The company was criticized by the White House, Hollywood stars and others who accused it of capitulating to extortionist threats.
Sony’s ‘The Interview’ has dominated international headlines for weeks. And so it’s no surprise that after Sony had decided to release ‘The Interview’ for rental or purchase through streaming services, and to show it at a limited number of selected independent cinemas, that the film became a sensation. After four days the film earned over 12.5 Million Euro through online rentals and purchases, becoming Sony’s highest-grossing online release. ‘The Interview’ is the top-selling Google Play and YouTube film of 2014 and as of 6th January the film has earned more than 25 million Euro online.
The publicity due to the cyberattack has called the attention of millions of people – and not just fans of political satire comedy films – to purchase ‘The Interview’. People buy and watch the film to fight their own little battle for freedom of expression. The film, with lower prior awareness, hasmade history thanks to ‘bad’ publicity.