On the Microsoft Ad Campaign

110 Comments

Earlier today Valleywag published a post suggesting that Microsoft paid me (and a number of other bloggers) off to recite their corporate slogan. It is a serious charge, one I take very seriously.

I have been upfront about my ethics and propriety in my reporting, so a finger pointed in that direction is something I must respond to. So without making any excuses, to my readers, if participation in Microsoft’s advertising campaign has made you doubt my integrity even for a second, then I apologize.

I have requested Federated Media, our sales partners, suspend the campaign on our network of sites, and they have. We are turning off any such campaigns that might be running on our network. Would I participate in a similar campaign again? Nothing is worth gambling the readers’ trust. Conversational marketing is a developing format, and clearly the rules are not fully defined. If the readers feel a line was crossed, I’ll will defer to their better judgement.

The fact of the matter is that the original premise of the campaign was to give my thoughts by what People Ready meant to me – it wasn’t an endorsement of a specific Microsoft product. (You can read it here, and judge for yourself.) Nor did my words run in any portion of our editorial space. Microsoft asked us to join a conversation, and we did. I wasn’t paid to participate in the conversation, but Microsoft ran an ad-campaign that paid us on the basis of CPM.

But today the campaign, which has been running for close to two months, brought up doubt about my editorial integrity for some of you.

In the future I shall focus on what I know best – reporting and writing.

110 Comments

TanNg

Om!

Reading http://peopleready.federatedmedia.net/ again and again, I found that it is very interesting topic to read and discuss. So I think that if you like the topic, take courage and follow it, do not care about what others say, follow your heart.

Nothing bad with advertising the topic that you like and make money with this.

stone

Conversational Media is an interesting yet very old style form of ad media. In my parlance it’s called Endorsement. Such an approach is never right unless it is the stated goal of your business model, which, in your case, it is not.

DaveD

I’ll still read you, as I always understand the mild bias that – like any writer – is in your writing. Two things about this come to mind:

The good – your post here. This is the stand-up way to handle this. You get big points in my eyes for it.

The bad – so let me get this straight. Microsoft and Federated approach you and ask you for your opinion of what a MS-created advertising phrase means… and you saw nothing wrong with this?

You had to have known that you were being asked to give a quote that they’d use to sell their products. And no, not being paid doesn’t matter.

It isn’t like they interviewed you about the state of desktop computing compared to 1990 and this was one of 20 questions. This was a direct attempt at getting a quote from you about their current ad campaign so they could use it.

In that regard, you lost points in my eyes.

Jonathan Hirshon

I applaud Om for clarifying his position with decisive swiftness and integrity – reputation is all-important and I personally believe he took the high road here on behalf of both his own properties AND for his readers.

cheers, JH

paul

You got one of those Acer Ferrari Vista laptops from Microsoft in another blogger scandal.

In a poll on this blog your readers voted for the return of the Ferrari to Microsoft and you were quoted in the press saying you didn’t need another laptop and would be returning it, but you never did.

Yuvamani

Om, We support you !

But like the laptop debacle. This was an extremely sly campaign Microsoft is running with the bloggers … They are taking the cluetrain manifesto to new lows …

Why is anybody not blaming Microsoft here? They seem to be running a weird blogosphere campaign here (and by the brouhaha surrounding the laptop issue and now this, I would say they are failing) .. Is the bribe giver forgiven of any blame ??

Yuvamani

Om, We support you !

But like the laptop debacle. This was an extremely sly campaign Microsoft is running with the bloggers … They are taking the cluetrain manifesto to new lows …

Why is anybody not blaming Microsoft here? They seem to be running a weird blogosphere campaign here (and by the brouhaha surrounding the laptop issue and now this, I would say they are failing) .. Is the bribe giver forgiven of any blame ??

TanNg

Om,
Nothing wrong with this. You love “People ready”, MS want to promote their brand name with “People ready”. So what connect you and MS is “people ready” not money. Why afraid just because it is Microsoft.

Roxanne Darling

Thanks for the fast, upfront, heartfelt reversal Om. The other issue here is that companies are increasingly and deliberately trying to blur the line between advertising and conversation. In many ways, this is positive – customers been wanting more dialog and less “being sold.”

But when the A-listers help brand a company’s slogan, using their own editorial force, it blurs things in the wrong direction – it comes across as sinister, sneaky, etc.

I think it’s worth considering Microsoft as well. Other companies might have gotten away with the tactic, but MS continues to demonstrate (IMO) they cannot trust the marketplace to evaluate their products fairly so they are simply moving from the bully pulpit to hoping some of the cachet of thought leaders like yourself might rub off on them.

Venture Itch

Om,
Stop acting guilty. You run absolutely great blog ot rather network of blogs. Some slips of tongue here and there are unavoidable, due to sheer volume of processed information. Such slips (if there were any) do not undermine your ethics and integrity, at least in my eyes. There will be always a few paranoidal readers/writers in search of conspiracy theory, they come with the job of blogger.

doug

This is a classic PR mistake. You write:

“if participation in Microsoft’s advertising campaign has made you doubt my integrity even for a second, then I apologize.”

Basically instead of saying “I apologize for a mistake in judgement and I regret what I did” you are telling your readers “I’m sorry you were so upset”. The former would lay the blame on you while the latter lays the blame on the reader and implies we’re all just being a bit over sensitive. You’ve probably had enough experiences w/ spouses or partners over the years to know there’s a big difference between the two.

Your blog is still, of course, a wonderful read and I think it’s safe to say the vast majority of your readers still respect you, as I do. Your integrity and credibility would be far better served if you didnt write a mea culpa in which you fail to even once admit you did anything wrong. Taking money from people whose products you cover daily and then writing endorsements for them is stupid. Admit it and move on or have the strength of your convictions that there’s nothing wrong with it….. but don’t patronize your readers with “Conversational marketing is a developing format”.

I can’t believe I’m now going to link to a Jason Calacanis post (from 2005 no less), but I think you might be able to learn something from him. In fact in the link below it sounds like he was able to even teach Nick a lesson that your post seems to suggest you might not yet understand:

http://www.calacanis.com/2005/01/19/take-note-bzzagents-and-canter-droids-the-ethical-chickens-are/

Srini

With a name like Om, he has to be good :) Kudos on a great decision, and backing it up with all your heart ! Crafty are the ways of influence, but your leadership-like choice in this matter has infused the blogosphere with NEW credibility, if you ask me ! KUDOS !

petabro

Om,
I do not believe you did anything wrong. I support you. I wonder who pays for the party and research budget of valleywag?

Srini Raghavan

Om
Not sure what the din is all about? Your comments were rather benign and I don’t think you had any reason to apologize.
Valleywag…whatever.

Srini

George

It’s funny this should come up again so quickly after the Microsoft Free Ferrari laptop fiasco. No one ever learns.

Rick

“it wasn’t an endorsement of a specific Microsoft product”.

Bull. Just by using the hollow copyrighted marketing phrase “people ready” means you endorsed all of Microsofts products and strategy. It’s like saying “yeah, I was holding a pair of sneakers and saying ‘just do it’, but I was in no way endorsing Nike products…”

The campaign conveys nothing else then that you and your fellow bloggers stand shoulder to shoulder with Microsoft in their old school campaign to sell people stuff based on slick advertising and slogans instead of merit. That’s not “joining the conversation”, joining a conversations means using your own voice and your own words, this is joining the traditional practice of shouting slogans at the audience until they buy what your selling. For christ’ sake, Scoble didn’t even do that when he was actually working for MS.

Om Malik

Thanks Rafat, i appreciate the kind words.

I will work harder to live up to your and everyone else’s expectations.

Om Malik

<p>OK, but did Microsoft/FM pay you to “join the conversation?”</p>

<p>No they didn’t. But at the same time the ad campaign ran on the site.</p>

<p>For what it is – I am terribly sorry for this. A mistake that i am not likely to repeat.</p>

Rafat

Om
Glad you took this step. It is hard, but we know you’ll always do the right thing.

Peter

How to be Bribe Ready. Payoff Ready. Anything-but-credible Ready.

Shoot the messenger.

Or the other White House favorite, “we didn’t see it coming”.

Or maybe go the Al Gore “no controlling legal authority” route.

Or use Ron Brown’s incompetence defense.

Shoot, why not use them all? Just don’t ever admit you were paid off.

If your behaviour and that of your co-conspirators didn’t just kill off the remaining vestiges of blogosphere credibility, then we can now safely call the blogosphere’s reputation Xenu – because nothing can destroy it.

Ross

Kudos to you for pulling the ads. Valleywag should thank you too – that’s the first time I’ve read something on their site in at least a year. For Nick to comment on “journalistic” ANYTHING is laughable.

It’ll be a great day when Lifehacker and Consumerist disassociate themselves from Gawker.

-a continued loyal reader.

ps. please consider adding a nofollow to the link, VW doesn’t deserve your influence.

Cortland Coleman

“Microsoft asked us to join a conversation, and we did.”

OK, but did Microsoft/FM pay you to “join the conversation?”

If so, that crosses a big, bold line in traditional journalism.

“Conversational marketing is a developing format, and clearly the rules are not fully defined.”

No question, but since you claim the title of “reporter,” aren’t some rules fully, clearly and obviously defined? Taking money to endorse products or services from those you report on is covered in J-School 101.

Kudos for pulling the ads from your network. It will be interesting to see if others follow suit.

Venkatesh

Om,
Its admirable that you would apologize even before defending your position.

To be honest, those ad’s were kind of confusing and I thought you endorsed them after some kind of a “review”. It was definitely misguiding. Never paid any attention to it till today though.

GuyNamedNate

I read your post on peoplereadybusiness and don’t see what all the fuss is about. You clearly aren’t endorsing anything, you’re just giving good advice for someone thinking about striking it out on their own.

If they did pay you, good for you! That kind of first-hand advice shouldn’t necessarily be free.

At the very most, it seemed like you were endorsing the slogan “people ready” as being a good thing, which you back up with reasons why being “people ready” has helped you in your career.

I actually would have MORE respect for you if you kept with your original judgment and ignored Valleywag and their sensationalist article, but do what you gotta do to feel comfortable.

JoeDuck

Wow – this is an extremely thoughtful and fast response. I heard very quickly from Federated and want to give them the benefit of the doubt but I still don’t see how this approach will enhance the dialog. Money does not have to be paid directly to focus things … differently.

Micros

It’s a slippery slope. Today it’s this slogan, tomorrow it will be “micro is soft and good” then “ms is great”. Where would you stop? Better stop here and now.

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