Sony’s See-Through Camera Disaster Cost Them $100 Million (

How a company retroactively fixed their massive PR problem

The CEO of Sony cameras was sitting reading his newspaper when a subordinate came into the room carrying a copy of Takarajima, a popular men’s magazine that sold in every corner of Japan.

As it landed on his desk, it was opened to a special page featuring Sony’s latest Handycam. After a quick glimpse, he sat up wide-eyed. Their team had missed a critical error that was rearing its head.

In the 1990s, home video cameras were wildly popular. Improvements in film quality and manufacturing made them available to an even broader market. Owning a camera no longer required breaking your bank account. The latest feature making the rounds was various forms of night vision. Sony’s camera introduced NightShot, which featured near-infrared technology.

Sony thought people would film critters on their back porch or each other during camping trips out in the woods. They hired famed ad agency Campbell Ewald Awald, which ran a now-famous print advertisement in magazines:

When they hit the market, Sony realized there was a bug in their design. No, you didn’t turn the camera on and instantly see through everyone’s clothing.

It was when you added a popular filter to the camera that the world suddenly turned into a nudist colony. After the Japanese magazine ran the issue about the bug, it created a feeding frenzy among journalists around the world.

Then, in our typical moral depravity, the demand for cameras with NightShot soared. Many of them sold for $2,500 instead of the original $600.

Unsurprisingly, the camera opened up a pandora’s box of legal problems and privacy issues. Reporters found 12 different websites featuring Peeping Tom videos and pictures of women who’d been out living a normal life.

The near-infrared camera, with the right white lighting conditions, would reflect light through clothing directly to the skin and bounce it back to the camera, illuminating a nude form. It was particularly effective in daylight and if the person was wearing dark colors or thin clothing, like a bathing suit.

These fabrics often absorbed infrared light rather than sending it back. You could see what underwear the person was wearing, their tattoos, and unfortunately, much more. [ … ]

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