Have you seen those fake dollar bills all over the Lower East Side and elsewhere?
As East Village Feed reported on Tuesday, Zynga, the game developer responsible for Mafia Wars and Farmville, among others, has undertaken an illegal marketing campaign in Manhattan that includes affixing fake dollar bills onto city sidewalks. According to the City of New York, it is unlawful for any person to deface the street or sidewalk with advertisement or printed matter.
The company, backed financially by New York City venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, has duplicated the same campaign in San Francisco, where the city is pursuing Zynga for "illegal and actionable" marketing tactics. Not only illegal, but incredibly intrusive and fraudulent; in effect, the company is brashly commandeering public property for private gain.
New York City resident Nick Douglas registered his disapproval by addressing Fred Wilson, founder of Union Square Ventures, directly. "Hey Fred," Douglas wrote on his blog, "the company you’re funding looks ugly on my neighborhood." And as blogger Peter Feld pointed out this morning, this isn't the first time Zynga has been lambasted for shady operations.
The blogger at East Village Feed reached out to both Zynga’s CEO and PR representative for comment on the ad campaign but did not hear back. I called the Sanitation Department, who were not pleased to hear about the campaign. They will remove any stickers if given the location, but it doesn't seem fair that the public should pay to clean this up. The game company and marketing team who distributed the fliers should be held responsible for clean up. Indeed, Sanitation requested contact information for the marketing company or game company, which was difficult to find. Only a phone number for Zynga's billing department could be located.
As well, the fake dollar bills have been affixed to the ground with a glossy adhesive. The potential hazards have not gone unnoticed. As Twitter user Jose S. Piano remarked, "some of those @zynga ads are placed right by subway entrances. Can you say, "Hazardous Placement"? It seems to be only a matter of time until they cause someone to slip and get very hurt. Mashable will be writing a different kind of story then.
UPDATE: The New York Observer, The New York Times, Gawker and San Francisco Chronicle all reported on the story today. After a ground swell of complaints and public opposition from residents and dogged efforts by East Village Feed, the marketing company responsible has gone on record saying they will clean up the illegal ads by the end of week.
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