When Things Go Bad (And There’s Nothing Your Brand Can Do About It)

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We like to blame others. 

In fact, when it comes to brands, it’s almost a given. Any mistake and misstep is met with a, “how could they not know!” The truth is that people can be evil, people can make mistakes, people can make stupid mistakes, people can be victims… and the list keeps on going. What would you say, if I told you that there’s a brewing black market economy happening right now on Fortnite. Yes, the uber-popular online game is now engrossed in a money laundering scandal of the highest order.

Here’s how the shakedown works, according to the Quartz article, The Fortnite Economy Now Has Its Own Black Market:

“After a hacker obtains someone else’s credit card information, they make a Fortnite account and use the card to buy V-bucks which are used in the game to purchase cosmetic upgrades and new ways your character can dance. Once the account is loaded up with V-bucks, it is then sold through a legitimate vendor like eBay, or on the dark web. V-bucks cost about $10 for 1,000 when you buy them in the game or from authorized online stores. But these accounts are sold at rates low enough that it ends up being much cheaper to buy V-bucks that way.”

Would your brand still like to be involved with Fortnite? Do you blame Fortnite for this criminal activity?

I’m not picking on Fortnite. I don’t think this is something/anything that they can control. Of course, they can work with law enforcement to try to track these accounts down. Of course, they can push for eBay (and whoever else they find out is doing this) to stop their actions. Do we also think eBay is a terrible company for not stopping this? What about the fact that there’s a marketplace for this? That everyday people are willing to buy V-bucks on the cheap from a third party to save a few bucks? Do we feel the same about StubHub and a myriad of other businesses that offer after-market sales of goods and services? Putting the ethics aside, things can go bad (sometimes very bad) for a brand, and it’s completely out of the realm of their control or doing. One could argue that there is very little (to nothing) that they can do about it. Loopholes are like this. Some accountants and lawyers are like this. Rules, terms and conditions get created and applied, then a group of people (usually) start looking for loopholes. Maybe it’s not illegal. Maybe it’s grey. Maybe it’s totally legal (just not what the intended law was created for). Still, they’re looking for ways to game the system to their benefit. They’re looking for ways to tweak a platform in a way that enriches them, while – at the same time – using it in a way that it’s creators never intended it to do.

Sounds a little bit like the problem with Facebook.

That’s the problem. The people who brought us #fakenews used Facebook in the exact way that it was created to be used. They had no tweaks or hacks. Instead of using it for good, they used it for evil. That’s not the only issue Facebook has, but if I am to have any empathy for the current slate of company woes, this would be it. I do not believe that Facebook would want #fakenews. I do not believe that Fortnite would want a black market for their currency. This is why I try (my hardest) to defend brands, when I can. For all the trouble that they get themselves into (for which I would never be an apologist), I do get all bitter and angry when brands are tossed under a bus and the public sentiment goes something like, “anyone who touched the business – or helps to promote it – should be blamed. It comes down to due-diligence, asking the right questions, looking for the red flags, listening to skeptical employees or media outlets, understanding where the vulnerabilities and risk may lie, etc…”  For those in the business, it’s often hard to know if the brand is intentionally misleading the public or not – even when you ask all of the right questions. It’s very complex. It’s never cut and dry. It’s never simply hidden in plain sight. It’s never because a partner, vendor or supplier didn’t ask the right questions up front. Bad people will exploit a system when they see an opportunity. Sometimes that bad person is in the business, and it’s easy to take responsibility and swift action. Often that bad person is not an employee of the business, and it’s hard to even make a dent in the problem.

Success leads to vulnerabilities. Ethics are critical. Having empathy for those stuck in these situations is everything.