U.K. Mobile Marketing Scheme Looks Like Virus

Makers of video game “Resident Evil” launched a mobile virus gimmick to promote the new release, and the campaign has had some (perhaps) unintended consequences.

A Web site set up to support the campaign allowed users to forward a “virus” to wireless subscribers without their permission. Once a cell phone owner becomes “infected,” his or her phone’s ringtone becomes a zombie groan, which can be removed by sending a text message to the game’s makers. The game, created by Japanese firm Capcom, pits players against zombies that have been infected with a virus.

The marketing ploy apparently caused some users to believe they had been infected with a real virus that was spreading via SMS, according to a statement from anti-virus company Sophos.

Sophos said it has received multiple inquiries from people concerned their phones had picked up a mobile virus after they received an unsolicited text message.

One of the messages that sparked alarm said, “Outbreak: I’m infecting you with t-virus, my code is [6 letter alphanumeric code]. Forward this to 60022 to get your own code and chance to win prizes. More at t-virus.co.uk.”

That Web site, hosted by a nonexistent company called Umbrella Corp, encourages people to “win prizes by infecting as many people as possible with this exciting new virus.” A footer on the page adds, “Umbrella Corp is a fictional subsidary of CE Europe. All personal data obtained is held in compliance with The Data Protection Act 1998.”

Sophos also expressed concern that the company issued a press release with quotes saying the virus “outbreak” is “totally out of control.”

Justin Kirby, head of U.K.-based Viral and Buzz Marketing Association, noted that gaming companies have a history of performing stunts similar to the Resident Evil virus hoax.

“A lot of these products live and die based on how their brands cut through, so more and more innovative tactics are being applied,” Kirby said, but he added companies should tread carefully when spoofing something serious like a virus. “Brands need to make a decision about the reward is worth the risk.”

CE Europe, a Capcom subsidiary, issued a press release admitting responsibility for the viral hoax, but gave no indication it would back off the campaign.

“The T-VIRUS is, of course, totally harmless and uses an innovative pyramid reward system to encourage those who are infected to infect as many others as they possibly can and win fantastic, limited edition [prizes],” the company stated.

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