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. There’s this little quotation by Gandhi which is displayed in most Indian shops and offices, I think, that – “The customer is God.”

    In a sense, you need only to listen to your readers and nobody else – your customers. However, Om – you give away your content for free. Almost, except we pay somebody else for the bandwidth.

    And there is another sweet quotation which hangs just below Gandhi’s aphorism in the Indian businesses:

    “We have nothing against competitors who charge less, they know what their services are worth.”

    I wonder what the truly ethical model would be…but it’s great that you’re quick on the listen. Well done.

  2. Om, this is much ado about a non-issue.

    Participation in an obscure campaign that happens to be sponsored by Microsoft doesn’t put a question mark on your integrity. Guilt by association is nothing more than a fallacy.

  3. i don’t see what’s the big deal here ? i don’t think you did something wrong here . who said its wrong to discuss a product which is being advertised on your site . and Valleywag of all the people is making such a noise . they are self proclamed gossip monger of hi tech , why you ahve to react to their call ?

    i think you have apologized too much , i respect your judgment and analysis thats why i come to GigaOm 6 times a day , if you feel that discussing “People Ready ” wasa good idea [ i think its good ] than why not . and what about all the talk going on iPhone in blogsphere ,Forbes,NewYorker ?? VW would say they are being hired by Apple ??

    asa regular reader of Gigaom i suggest that you shouldn’t pay much attention to Valley Wag and avoid making Commander out of mere soldiers .
    you are commander Om, Shoot the soldier :)

  4. Om, your sincere commitment to integrity is that which will continue to make your work successful. Blogs, IMHO, have grown wildly successful in recent years, as a result of their integrity, in reporting as mavens in the thick of life and culture, among other factors. Today’s consumers have intelligent filters, which they/we use to tune out messages and/or advice with significant potential for conflict of interest. In today’s traditional media world, a “Best 10 ____” list often only lists those products that have strong relationships with a publication. I’m am reluctant, as a result, to let my behavior be influenced by any of them.

    In any case, I believe that a strong commitment to integrity will build far more valuable relationships with consumers, in the long term, and I applaud you for your strong resolve and receptive ear.

  5. Om, as always you are a class act. As media becomes more of a conversation, so will advertising….and the rules are not as clear as they once were. You have done an excellent job clearly explaining your thought process, and you have done your readers and your advertisers a service being transparent, honest and honorable.

  6. Quote from Robert McLaws Blog:

    Dave, the part of that statement that concerns me is that it you think readers are easily confused. Personally, I assume that my readers are smart, and in most cases, smarter than me. I saw this campaign weeks ago, and I sure wasn’t “confused” by it, so I doubt my readers were, either. Any confusion in the situation only came after people raised questions and all hell broke loose.

  7. As a potential FM advertiser, this issue makes me wonder where FM’s allegiances lie – do they lie with the big advertiser, where they get the access to pitch these kinds of “conversations”? Does FM serve the smaller advertisers differently…?

  8. It makes me really sad to see that unlike Om, so many readers seem to honestly believe ethics are irrelevant when it comes to doing business and making money.

    Whatever your position may be, so many people pretending there is no ethically question at all an making money justifies everything is just plain frightening.

  9. Julia,

    thanks for your comments and thoughts. I use a thinkpad for at least two days a week – though mostly it is on the weekends. Ever since they released IE 7, I have little issue with IE because now I don’t worry about the security holes as much. But point well taken – I will split my time between the two platforms.

  10. Julia Shazzi

    Bloggers should be representing the user population. I think bloggers who are on Firefox and Mac switch to platforms that are more representative of the population.

    Microsoft is just another company. Every one of them tries tactics as these.

    Om brings Ethics to publishing. Wish to see him bringing in true representation of the user population.

  11. The most funny fact to me is that I nearly never had to see this campaign, because I always have Firefox’ AdBlock on. Only on my mobile phone there is no such plugin. And that’s where I was sometimes irritated by Om’s quotes.

    Maybe we just need better crap filters. Does anybody know a solution for Nokia E61? ;)

  12. wotta riot ! microsoft is suddenly “people ready”. did someone suddenly unplug The Matrix ? are they admitting they’ve had us acting like robots for all of these years ?

    100% agreed that this is marketing fluff and a sad reflection on the hard work done by microsoft engineering. It is like marketeers hailing “revolutions” every other week as if appealing to Che’s ghost for endorsement.

    This is what we get for living in an era dominated by ironic sloganeering such as “no child left behind” and “fair and balanced news” i guess.

  13. Jeff K.

    Om, please stop apologizing profusely. You’re giving competitors and detractors to your site (who have their own agendas and biases) like Dan Farber of ZDNet free play to criticize your business decisions. No doubt Dan is honest in his feedback but he’s speaking through an old-school, corporate editorial lens that is CNET. On the other hand, you have tens of thousands of loyal readers who will be behind you no matter what stance you take. Please keep that in mind along with your personal goals for GigaOm.

  14. Om, way to go :). I admire your decision and appreciate your blog entry on the topic.

    On a different note: why hasn’t anyone even touched upon the fact that the whole “PeopleReady” thing is — in itself — laughably embarrassing? I mean, seriously, who comes up with crap like this? PR / Marketing people get paid for this brilliance?!

    Perhaps if Microsoft let its many fine programs (e.g., OneNote) speak for themselves and spent less time/money coming up with vapid slogans (“Where Do You Want To Go Today?” and “PeopleReady” and so on), the company’d get more respect.

    Lastly, I’m both amused and annoyed that Arrington just doesn’t get it. Yes, Valleywag is a P.O.S. entity… one step lower than the National Enquirer in both class and substance. But that doesn’t mean that — perhaps completely by accident — Nick didn’t actually hit upon a real issue.

    The principle here is unambiguously simple: Own your words. Either you stand behind what you write (no matter whether it’s ad copy or whatever) or you don’t. People judge you by your words, as well they should. If you don’t give a whit about “PeopleReady” whatsits or, worse yet, are embarrassed about the whole cheesy thing, then run away. I mean, seriously, does Arrington REALLY need the money?! Can’t someone of that stature save his words and reputation for something he truly believes in and respects or even feels passionate about?

  15. Om has reacted the best of any of these clowns. Om truly gets it, because he is a journalist.

    I’m done with Techcrunch – they aren’t good anymore. They’re not indepedent and they don’t get it. They can’t pretend to be journalists if they aren’t.

  16. Even from the standpoint of “this blog is a business”, it’s incumbent upon om to cater to his audience. A good chunk of it would have been pretty pissed off, perhaps alienated for good, without this kind of statement from Om. So Om’s options were limited, for purely business reasons even if not ethical ones, contrary to the comments of those so hungry to “monetize” that they’d let Frito-Lay underwrite About.com’s nutrition guide.

    The blogosphere is like Linux – you can add unique value and profit, but just realize everyone in the world can play, you have to give most of your work away, and you must not corrupt the code or you won’t be compatible with anyone else anymore.

    Part of the code is an echo of journalistic ethics. In the blogosphere, the blogger is obligated to represent THEMSELVES ONLY unless specifically stated. When violated, bye bye credibility, so long traffic and influence. Regarding commercial messages you can’t just “slide it in there” like product placement in movies, because this audience is primed to leave the theater at the first whiff of manipulation.

    Microsoft’s effort was a direct challenge to the blogosphere to walk away from those ethics. We won this battle. It took om’s will and the ethical clamor of the outraged portion of his community to halt this corruption.

    Next time a corporation wants to undertake this kind of a tactic, I hope they realize how much credibility and goodwill Microsoft has lost as a result of this “clever brainstorm” by one of their foolish marketeers. In what way was this campaign “people-centric” ??? This incident in fact is a close-to-home reminder that the interests of corporate entities are not innately coincident with the needs of human beings, especially where ethics are concerned.

    According to libertarian logic, microsoft “can’t be blamed” for trying to “increase shareholder value” with this little scheme, right? Well, let’s see if the market punishes them for it or not. Odds are, it will. This suite of products must suck to require such pathetic promotion. Call it karma. Om indeed !!!

  17. exemployeesdaughter

    I understand exactly what you mean about being honest and writing your stuff with integrity and truth. I am going through pretty much the same thing right now with my blogs… It’s pretty awful when you have to defend the truth. Good luck. By the way, I think that your coming right out and letting your readers become aware of what is going on tells alot about the person behind the blogs.

  18. A followup to my comment earlier….

    Om, you’ve score much more points now than you had before. Hey – everybody makes a mistake in judgment sometimes. It’s how you handle it when you realize it that matters most.

    Next, to certain posters… particularly the one who compared Microsoft’s “pennies” to Apple’s “75 million” to Firefox. Om. if you didn’t ever see it, now you do – this would be the underside of the blogoshpere.

    They aren’t just a crowd – they are a stampede that is controlled by…??? I actually found Michael’s post on all this to be worse than what set this all off. There was NOTHING in his words that said anything was even the least bit off – even in terms of credibility.

    And then he incited emotions to lash out at the ones who might have the temerity to suggest he was merely being two-faced.

    That sort of thing draws out the posters I just mentioned. They have no reason to speak except that of raising even more argument and fighting.

    Look, what happened, did. You can either try to color it by saying everyone does it, or redirect things by saying Valleywag has an axe to grind….

    Or simply say this is something you don’t think belongs as part of “the media game”.

    More and more = Om, you score quite a few points.

  19. Om, I respect your decision but frankly, I’m sad to see you given up so quickly. In these campaigns, each blogger is fully free to express their opinions. The purpose is to open a topic to discussion and that’s it – they can say anything they want. Advertisers just set the origin, the vectors belong to the participants, it’s their decision to take it wherever they want. Would ValleyWag fans prefer a typical static brand awareness ad campaign instead of this? No thinking, no dimensions, just striking promises

    People should get ready to the next generation of advertising. They’ll surely get more interactive, provocative and contextual. Those who are against innovations are vulnerable to extinction according to darwinist thinking.

  20. Om, I’m with my former colleague Dan Farber on this one, and with Scientist whoever he/she is. Easy mistake to make, but a tough one to fix except in the way you did it: forthrightly and adding to your journalistic creds while keeping your human voice. You come out ahead in this reader’s view.

    Robin

  21. Jean-Michel Decombe

    I personally think you did the right thing and you explained your rationale rather well. Bloggers believe that they are exploring new territory and, to a certain extent, they are. But while redefining how news are communicated to the audience is OK, certain notions are not up for redefinition, including CREDIBILITY and TRUST. Or if they are, then I am looking forward to seeing the new definitions.

    You really need not apologize. Everybody learned something here about a medium, blogging, that is still in its infancy. And the last word on the subject has yet to be said. Onwards!

  22. Scientist

    Actually, the real issue for me is that it seemed like the ad was quoting from real blog posts, in an effort to seem like there was an authentic excitement about “people-ready”.