Square Enix apologizes for short-lived Hitman ad campaign

Hitman: Absolution

You’d think that by now the people running the Hitman: Absolution advertising effort would want to keep a low profile. Every new ad burst surrounding the game to date has been met with mass criticism, and claims that the game promotes sexism and violence toward women. Yet, this morning a new Facebook application debuted which gives fans a chance to simultaneously promote the game while belittling and threatening their close acquaintances.

That’s not hyperbole. According to RockPaperShotgun, who reported on the application prior to Square Enix removing it “less than an hour later,” the application offered users the opportunity to place a hit on their friends for various reasons, ranging from poor hygiene to “her awful make-up” to, and we wish we were kidding, disgust over this hypothetical friend’s diminutive bosoms. While no one was actually assassinated due to their tiny boobs, the application did offer an unsettling reward for those who had been targeted. Not only does the application point out their physical failings and then bluntly state that someone wants them to die for them, but it also offers a lazy look at what such an execution might entail. RockPaperShotgun captured the entire scenario in screenshots, but the quick, short version is that a picture of the target is fondled by Hitman’s protagonist, before he aims a gun and heavily implies that he’s killed someone.

Of course, this application’s combination of threatened physical violence and cheap physical insults immediately drew backlash from, well, everyone and Hitman publisher Square Enix pulled it down mere minutes after it initially appeared. As if it had only just then realized that sending threats over the Internet is illegal, Square Enix also offered the following apology:

Earlier today we launched an app based around Hitman: Absolution that allowed you to place virtual hits on your Facebook friends. Those hits would only be viewable by the recipient and could only be sent to people who were confirmed friends.

We were wide of the mark with the app and following feedback from the community we decided the best thing to do was remove it completely and quickly. This we’ve now done.

We’re sorry for any offence caused by this.

Hm. Succinct, diplomatic, and it does its best to alleviate any lingering blame for the problem addressed. That’s a textbook-perfect corporate apology. Cynicism aside though, it’s impressive that Square Enix reacted so quickly to this poorly-received ad campaign, pulling it before it did any real, inevitable damage. Then again, maybe someone should have stepped in prior to this application’s launch to point out what a terrible idea it was. At best its advertising value is nominal, yet the potential damage it could cause to both Square Enix and the future of the Hitman franchise is utterly massive.

Oh, and if you’re wondering who came up with this scheme in the first place, that would be Emmy-winning ad agency Ralph. Square Enix hired Ralph to run the Hitman: Absolution ad campaign, though we wonder if maybe the publisher might go with another agency for the next Hitman sequel.