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From the "When will they ever learn?" department: Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) is receiving some well-deserved bad publicity today, after suspending an employee who made a comedy video tweaking Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) new iPhone 4 and its adoring fans.
The employee is 25-year-old Brian Maupin, who's been selling phones at a Kansas City, Mo. Best Buy for three and a half years, according to TechCrunch. His video involves one cartoon bear approaching another at "Phone Mart," which is nothing but a grassy outdoor area. In a robotic voice, the consumer bear asks for Apple's shiny new toy: "Where is the iPhone 4? I need an iPhone 4."
Explaining that Phone Mart is out of the iPhones, the salesbear tries to interest the consumer bear in an HTC Evo from Sprint (NYSE: S ) , which he explains is faster, has a bigger screen, higher resolution cameras, replaceable battery and memory card, a cheaper monthly bill, and it's not on AT&T's (NYSE: T ) overloaded network. Undeterred, consumer bear wants an iPhone, today, because "It's the best phone." (You can see it here, but be warned: There's a lot of foul language in it.)
Best Buy is not identified in any way, shape, or form in the video. Still, as the comedic satire hit more than a million views on YouTube, his bosses became aware of it -- and they weren't happy. Maupin told Kansas City's KMBC-TV that the store's general manager gave him two options: "You can quit right now or we can go through due process with (human resources)." Refusing to quit, Maupin will learn his fate early next week.
While even Maupin himself can partially see Best Buy's side, I find this just another case of corporate cluelessness. Here's a guy who made a comedy video on his own time, which nicely played up the Apple-vs.-Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android debate. He did not identify himself or Best Buy in any way. If this is indeed the full story, I believe Best Buy is crossing a line it shouldn't. And whatever negatives the store was trying to avoid, it's now receiving a thousandfold. In an age of viral videos and nattering nabobs of the blogosphere, how could Best Buy expect anything else?
Thankfully, there's some hope for a happy ending here. I left a message to get Best Buy's side of the story, and received this statement via email:
Brian Maupin is an aspiring film-maker who is a Best Buy employee. This is an important situation for us because it involves balancing our social media guidelines with a commitment to creating a supportive environment for our employees. That's why our investigation into this matter will take some time before it's concluded, and why we look forward to seeing Brian back on the job come Monday.