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04 Mar 2011
99 red balloons (plus 9901 more)...


One lost balloon - sophie-world.com

Photo by Lacey Atkins, The Chronicle

I know that usually I only have two blog posts a week, but after hearing about this story today I was "bursting" to say something! (Sorry for the pun!)

Did you hear about the balloon fiasco?

Evidently the Game Developer's Conference, which was held this past Wednesday on March 2nd at the Moscone Center, had a publicity stunt go bad. Yes, I know that hindsight is 20/20, but seriously, folks -- if you're going to design a publicity campaign, make sure to get some folks who actually understand the nature of the beast they're trying to wrangle! In this case, it was helium, latex, and rain -- never a good combination.

I'm sure whoever came up with this stunt was convinced that they were brilliant. The concept: stage a mock rally in Yerba Buena Gardens and then release 10,000 red balloons, drawing upon the imagery of South Korea sending messages of hope to the North. Apparently this video game they were promoting is set in a future where we're being invaded by North Koreans...

Each balloon (and I'm sure the developers thought this was such an incredibly clever stunt) had a flyer attached to it that was basically a coupon to be redeemed at a local Game Stop store.

Okay, right away I can tell you: baaaaad idea. We all know how balloons work. You release them, they go up, they reach about 28,000 feet (which takes about 26 minutes on a clear day), and they then explode and plunge earthward. In this instance, each pop would signify another piece of literature about to come plummeting to the earth, building up speed through the wet, dense clouds, only to land... who knows where! Does anyone else see a flaw in this logic? Even on a clear day, this piece of paper is going to have to endure heavy air pressure, moisture from the clouds, and serious obstacles like power lines and buildings. By the time this thing actually makes its way back to the streets of San Francisco (or more likely San Jose if you figure in the wind currents!), it's going to be a tattered mess on the bottom of some pedestrian's shoe, or maybe in some pigeon's nest. I have a mental image of those funny pidgies from the movie "Bolt", trying to figure out how to raise enough money to buy an Xbox... Or even better, a tree filled with birds nests, each dangling a deflated or popped balloon like a patriotic flag raised on the Fourth of July...

The basic stupidity of the stunt aside... Who, who, WHO advised them about the balloons? Whoever it was should be slapped with a pool noodle! My guess is that whoever inflated the balloons for them didn't even think about what was going to be done with them. But if they did... make it TWO pool noodles!

Anyone who works with balloons know that balloons have three moral enemies: sharp objects, wind, and rain! One time, back when I was in college, I worked for a balloon company. It was the day before New Year's and we were in Atlantic City. My job was to inflate and deliver 250 balloons. The only thing was, they had us blow up the balloons in a ballroom, and then we had to transport them about half a mile through a maze-like wind tunnel (I'm only exaggerating a little!) for delivery. By the time we got there, the strings and balloons were a giant knotted mass. I was in tears! I now know that I should have secured the balloons with a clip, slid the clip up to the very tops of the strings, and held on tightly right underneath the clip. But I was very young, and I'd never dealt with elements like that before. Balloons and the elements should never mix...

Which brings us back to the balloon release. In the rain!

Ever have a party where you mark the turnoff in the road with balloons? Lots of people do. Ever see what happens to those balloons when it rains? They droop, they sag, they collect water and fall. It's a very pathetic sight, like faded Christmas tinsel that's been left up for way too long, or tattered banners, bleached and shredded, looking like sad sacks...

Anyway, someone should have really told these guys.

Instead, we end up with a bay full of red balloons. Although I'm sure that was quite a sight: thousands of red balloons dropping like lead weights into our beautiful bay... And of course our city was atwitter -- literally! Phones all over the city were beeping as people tweeted about the red grenades falling over the Embarcadero. Of course THQ went into damage control mode right away, assuring us that the balloons were biodegradable and that they were sending out cleanup crews and so on... I'm sure it's going to cost them a lot of money...

Although I guess the flip side of it is that it did garner a lot of publicity for them. I mean, when I start writing abut a video game... you know something's up!

One lost balloon - sophie-world.com

A sad balloon in the Bay

From Flickr user ekai

For more news on "Balloongate," check out these links:

PC World, "GDC: What Floats Up Must Rain Down in Homefront Balloon Debacle"

Time Magazine, "When PR Goes Wrong: Videogame Maker Accused of Environmental Abuse"

San Francisco Chronicle, "Balloon Stunt in SF Draws Anger, Criticism"