Blog Post

On the Microsoft Ad Campaign

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 Responses to “On the Microsoft Ad Campaign”

  1. Don Dodge – its not a matter of not recognizing the difference between an ad and a blog post. I certainly wasn’t confused. But the point is Om and the others make their living through their editorial voice on their blog. Now they lend that editorial voice to a Microsoft ad for a payment. And regardless of whatever they want to call it, a conversation, whatever. Either way the ads comes off as Om and the others endorsing Microsoft. So they have jeopardized the integrity of their editorial voice. If they take money to say something, who knows what’s paid for and what’s not paid for.

    I’m not confused or hopelessly lost. I don’t know what you do at Microsoft, I vaguely remembering reading your name somewhere, but stop wasting your time on your insulting snide and try putting out some good software for a change.

  2. Hey Om,

    I know that this won’t stop me from reading your blog. People need to use some common sense, just because you or Mike endorse something, doesn’t mean I am going to blindly take your advice. I always go and do a little checking myself before I decide what is good or bad.

    A suggestion. Thank the little guys like myself and many others, who read this blog by doing a week of posts on up and comers, one man (or woman) show, with no money, but a lot of heart. Now that would up your Karma! Keep up the great work…

  3. Take Microsoft’s money. We all know your a Mac guy anyway.

    So you blog their “people ready” campaign or whatever. It’s dependent on the content and what you write but write about it, give your honest opinion, and take their money.

  4. rodrigo

    To all you people who see nothing wrong here: What if the the editor of the NY Times participated in an ad campaign about what “the Audacity of Hope” means to them? And, what if they got ad revenue from it?

    Would you trust their next editorial? Would you have no problem with that? How is this any different?

    Don & everyone else at Microsoft: you guys really need to reconsider your marketing. In aggregate this incident, the Ferrari laptop thing, those cheesey college zune parties and everything else are doing nothing to help your brand. If you make good products people will write about them. Paying off bloggers w/ ad revenue to write about what “People Ready” means to them is cheesey.

    You don’t see Apple and Google resorting to these kinds of tactics because they are spending their time and money wisely on actually making products that people want to use.

  5. Don,

    You don’t get the point do you ? All these days the “Ads” appeared as though the slogan or whatever was endorsed by OM. Which he never did, but it was nevertheless misleading to the readers.

    These ad’s led me to believe, OM had “blogged” or “reviewed” and those snippet’s of text are appearing from a positive review at Gigaom.

    Om, you are a class act. Only you are able to understand your readers and came out clean on it. Really appreciate your candor.


  6. I don’t doubt the journalistic integrity of Om Malik for a nanosecond. With 30 years experience, I can relate this to a newspaper being accused of bias because there is a United Airline ad in the paper when there is a favorable article about United in the travel section.

    Gigaom has the same credibility with me that it did before this accusation was made.

    When you get this kind of criticism, it means you have a voice that is recognized and folks will take pot shots.

  7. Om, You are a former journalist, and perhaps as an independent blogger you still hold yourself to the old journalistic standards. Fair enough, but I really don’t see a problem with this advertising method.

    Readers who don’t know the difference between an advertisement and a blog post are hopelessly lost. The ads are clearly separated and marked as ads.

    These advertising units are more conversational and relate personal experiences. I think that makes the ad more interesting, but is still just an ad.

    The notion that your integrity or opinion could be swayed by a simple banner ad is absolutely ridiculous. Anyone who has read you more than once knows that.

    You have nothing to apologize for.

    Don Dodge
    (yes, I work for Microsoft, but I also take shots at Microsoft when they do someting dumb. Not the case here.)

  8. At Rocketboom, we started to sign up FM because they sold us on having integrity, but after many months of interaction with a group that seemed to be having an unusually large amount of internal communication problems, and especially no understanding of Rocketboom after repeated meetings, we determined that FM did not have very much integrity at all and that was the #1 reason why we never completely signed on.

    My friends and colleagues that I love and trust the most tend to use FM, so I have questioned my insight, but I keep getting hit with the same feeling – today again.

    The worst behavior yet had to do with the Ask A Ninja Deal. FM claimed in writings that they did not give Ninja an upfront by using words that a sophist would use. Yet they told us that they did give Ninja an upfront and that is how they do things at FM now with all their new signups. This deal really effected the industry perception of videoblogging so the truth was much more important than their own personal dealings which had become public.

    Every time I read John Battelle’s blog now, I can’t help but question if he’s saying it for his own personal gain. I assume he is sincere usually, but I guess I’ll never know and this uncertainty seems to linger whenever I picture his name.

    Isn’t this the effect that others will have now from this most recent fiasco with paying bloggers to say nice things about companies they dont care about?

    If FM has integrity, shouldn’t they at least understand why it’s wrong for a lot of bloggers?

    Michael at Techcrunch said he doesn’t care about what he wrote for Microsoft even though he signed his name. Yet he signed his name for me – someone who admires and looks up to his opinions. Thats why Microsoft had you guys do this; so I would believe in Microsoft indirectly.

    Apparently people like Michael are willing to write messages they dont believe in just for money in the same way, to the same people, in the same space and in the same place.

    Thanks Om for responding the way you did. I think you and Dave Winer got it right, as usual.

  9. Kudos to Om for coming clean on this mess.

    Fiascos such as this could be avoided with better disclosure. When CNBC interviews a stock analyst on-air, they display a little check box with potential conflicts of interest. Is the company they’re commenting on a client, former client, etc.

    When bloggers or media disclose, they remove all senses of impropriety. If this MSFT campaign had been better disclosed, this wouldn’t be a story.

    I propose that bloggers and MSM join together to create a standard method of disclosure. Maybe “disclosure boxes” at the end of stories, maybe delivered via a WordPress plugin that would allow the reader to click on a hyperlinked “Yes” to learn details and decide for themselves.

    Author or blog received remuneration from persons or organizations mentioned in this story: Yes/No

    Author is an investor in organizations mentioned in this story: Yes/no

    Author is an investor in companies that compete with organizations mentioned in this story (When I covered the launch of Signet Solar for VentureBeat, I disclosed I owned stock in Signet competitors) Yes/no

    Author considers one or more of the subjects covered in this story personal friends. Yes/no

  10. digginestdogg

    You accepted compensation for using your blog for the commercial gain of a third-party while masking the link between the compensation and the content you provided supported. That crossed the line. It was the hiding of the connection that is the problem. Overt advertising is fine. Shilling is not.

    Most of us know the difference and I find it hard to believe a man of your intelligence didn’t know what was going on any more than most of Congress does. Congress does it all the time with campaign funding. For example: Dingell was one of the key Democrats to vote against increasing mileage standards? He repesents Detroit in Congress. Direct connection? No. But most of us know exactly what is going on there. Do you want your reputation and approval to be as low as that of Congress?

    Those who wrote in in support of your action are showing their own lack of moral fiber and ‘compass’–its all about the ‘Bejamins’ with far too many people. Many of us will wonder if you’ll be doing it again now–only hiding it better. that’s a shame but a consequence of your own choice.

    “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it” –Benjamin Franklin

  11. Remeber the cardinal rule of “coolness” on the web:

    Microsoft is EVIL. Google and Apple are not. They can buy off anyone, including Firefox for 75 million. But if you take penny from Microsoft … you ain’t cool anymore.

    They are all dishonest hypocrites of course.

  12. I understand that idea of the advertisings but the execution was terrible. While I understand that you weren’t promoting Microsoft, when I first read the ads, it came off to me like you were supporting Microsoft and Microsoft was the way to go if I wanted my business to be people ready.

    Om, you set yourself above everyone else by valuing your integrity. Old School, New School, Newspapers, Magazines, Blogs, whatever . . . integrity is important.

    Too bad Arrington has none and he just tells everyone to go pound sand. That’s a great sentiment to give to loyal readers who help him get paid so much for his precious advertising. He really comes off as an arrogant jerk.

  13. Scientist

    Om, You are a CLASS ACT. Fred is a VC and doesn’t report on anything, doesn’t break news on companies etc (so his site is different) but you have to hold yourself to a higher standard, and I am grateful you did. I hope Arrington sees the problem.

    It ain’t about Vallewag …

  14. Using traditional as a benchmark won’t work. The weekely real estate section praising the current Condominumim to be sold is perfectly acceptable and rakes in vast quantities of loot.

    Nope. The rule is simple. Display ads and you are a whore. Displaying Microsoft ads is not “more evil” than displaying Google or Apple ads – despite what some would have you believe.

  15. Om,

    From what I’ve read, only you and Paul Kedrosky have responded appropriately to the concerns. You didn’t attempted to excusify or rationalize the situation and Paul thinks he just should have said no.

    I’d say your credibility has just gone up.


  16. Om, you did nothing wrong. You can still maintain your integrity and objectivity while monetizing your content. Bowing to these self-righteous posters who read your wonderful and insightful postings for free is the actual slippery slope.

    As far as I’m concerned your integrity is intact and for those who would criticize you and the blogosphere, I say, get your information elsewhere.

    So, I guess you aren’t supposed to endorse any product or service without the naysayers questioning you. You cannot make everyone happy — don’t try to.

  17. Most of this discussion about “philosophy” is about the psychology [neuroses?] of the participants.

    Ain’t nothing wrong with discussing the practices of folks who also happen to be advertising on your site. Certainly, better than silent acquiescence = affirmation.

    As for worrying about Valley gossips – it’s your neighborhood not mine, Om; so, I guess I’ll take your word that it’s important – to you. I could bloody well care less.

    I’m confident in your independence and integrity. That’s why I visit here.

  18. socialshopping


    I have to be blunt here — you’re an ass on this one. You folded to criticism that was from a dubious source to begin with. You have a business, businesses often run on advertising. Radio personailities routinely pitch products — we all know that it’s an f’n ad — just like this campaign was. Besides, do you really think that you have any influence over what we buy because it’s a quote in a banner? If that’s the case, then you’re even a bigger ass.

  19. DaveD and others,

    You are right about the points you make, and again, every word you say is right. I am repeating myself (good thing), but will be very very and very careful in the future.

  20. Dan and Fred thanks for your comments.

    Dan you are absolutely right – when building for the future, it is important to be extra careful about every single decision.

    I have said what I wanted to say about this matter – this is going to be a big lesson for me in what to do, and what NOT to do in the future.

  21. Neil Chase, Vice President of Federated Media Publishing trumpets the “birth of conversational marketing.” I like the idea of markets being conversations…very cluetrain and the right direction.

    Here is his less than credible explanation of the MS campaign in question:

    “In the case of this Microsoft campaign, the marketers asked if our writers would join a discussion around their “people ready” theme. Microsoft is an advertiser on our authors’ sites, but it’s paying them only based on the number of ad impressions delivered. There was no payment for joining the conversation and they were not required to do it. They’re not writing about this on their blogs, and of course several of them have been known to be pretty hard on Microsoft at times as reporters. They’re talking about the topic, and readers joined that conversation.”

    Why would anyone join a conversation about what People Ready means to me? Is this a conversation worth having? I don’t think so unless you want to have fun critiquing Microsoft’s ad slogan.


  22. OM – as always you take the high road – YOU ARE A CLASS ACT!

    Fred’s approach is also right in his own way. But what I do not understand is this “fake deference” for Nick Denton – will somebody please take that clown off the stage!

  23. Come on Fred….you say

    “Blogging doesn’t play by traditional media rules. That’s why it’s great. Blog advertising shouldn’t play by traditional media rules either. I am proud to be a participant in this campaign and think it makes me even more credible.”

    Maybe it’s credible for VCs, but we do try to play by common sense journalist rules whether blogging or working on a newspaper. Actively participating–tell use what you think about people ready–in a Microsoft ad campaign doesn’t help to assure readers, watchers, listeners that you are fiercely independent. All of us who know Om don’t question his integrity at all, but its about perceptions in the larger world and the slippery slope. I obviously support his position and the honest way he handled it.