Everyone has heard about the People-Ready controversy by now. John Battelle, sitting at the center of the storm, takes up the issue and sounds a defiant note: “But to sum up, I refuse to declare conversational marketing a bad idea because of one storm.”

I think that there’s an elephant in this room: namely, that the Microsoft People-Ready marketing campaign is paralyzingly stupid and lame. Thus, a bunch of allegedly-intelligent allegedly-leading voices of the blogosphere suddenly singing in the chorus totally fails to pass the sniff test; in fact, it stinks to high heaven. There are marketing campaigns that could—in fact there are campaigns that have—raised a chorus of blog voices in admiration and support. But while Microsoft has many strengths, they have not in recent years included marketing or messaging.

So, while I think the storm that broke out, and the consequences, were inevitable and appropriate, I also wonder whether it would have blown so high had the campaign been something intelligent, say Apple arguing things should Just Work or we at Sun arguing that servers should have a smaller carbon footprint.

But then, I’m paranoid and cynical.



Contributions

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From: Seth A. Roby (Jun 24 2007, at 00:13)

Speaking as a Mac guy, I rather liked their ad campaign with the chalk drawings on the live action video. I think it was early in the "Your potential; our passion" campaign.

I felt that it summed up Microsoft's vision of "a computer on every desktop and in every home," in that a goal of such a vision is getting everyone to use those desktops for things they want to do. Microsoft, in that worldview, is just trying to help you out with whatever it is your potential is. I'm not saying that that's how the world actually is, but it made for a good ad campaign, I thought.

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From: Shivering Timbers (Jun 24 2007, at 07:44)

Tim: Thanks for finally articulating what a lot of people have been thinking and hinting at.

I'd also add that, absent this controversy, the "People Ready" website would have very quickly gone from obscurity to oblivion.

So I suppose in one sense, bringing in the popular bloggers succeeded in raising the campaign's profile. Just not in the way Federated Media expected.

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From: Mark (Jun 24 2007, at 08:57)

"Welcome to the birth of conversational marketing," where advertisers shit all over you and leave it to you to convince everyone else that shit is the latest fashion.

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From: Dare Obasanjo (Jun 24 2007, at 09:50)

The elephant in the room is that the ad campaign is lame? You're kidding right? Seriously, your anti-Microsoft bias is making you post some questionable material these days.

Mike Arrington pointed out why this issue is a problem for the blogosphere in his various rants against PayPerPost. It reduces the credibility of the entire medium if you can't distinguish paid shilling from independent content. If I see a Roger Ebert or Walt Mossberg quote in an ad, I actually expect that these are their opinions not that they were paid to shill some product.

The fact that people can't tell the difference is a clear indication that "new media" is on the path to even be more of a shill for corporate interests than the "old "media" it is claimed to be replacing.

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From: Derek K. Miller (Jun 24 2007, at 10:31)

I think there are two problems with this project: (1) Microsoft is the advertiser, which gets some people's hackles up, or at least makes them suspicious at the outset; and (2) most importantly, there wasn't enough disclosure.

As a reader or listener, I don't mind bloggers or podcasters promoting sponsors -- I do it myself on my podcast -- as long as it's clear that's what's going on. It's the attempts to hide or obfuscate the sponsorships that make people angry.

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From: artMonster (Jun 24 2007, at 11:56)

Interesting thing about Microsoft advertising. Before I see the name Microsoft, I know it is one of their ads. There's a certain lameness about it that I can't quite pin down. Even when they are promoting something that might be cool. Maybe because they always seem to use images of scores of people standing around, like herds of cattle...

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From: Justin Watt (Jun 24 2007, at 12:18)

Tim if you can get someone at Sun in touch with Chas Edwards (chas at federatedmedia dot net), FM re: advertising "servers with smaller carbon footprint" perhaps we'd see some more intelligent campaigns.

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From: Fred Hamranhansenhansen (Jun 24 2007, at 14:35)

It's not necessarily that People-Ready is bad, it is just very low in informational content. There is no there there. In that sense it may be the most accurate Microsoft ad campaign yet. I'm left wondering "where's the beef?" like so many Vista reviewers.

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From: Dave (Jun 24 2007, at 14:53)

Mr. Battelle's post is self-serving and can only (with great chartity) be called disingenuous in the extreme.

I would have posted a comment on his blog, but as there are no comments posted there after a full 24 hours, one can only assume they are heavily censoring any responses they have received.

Battelle innocently asks why people assume Microsoft's intentions to be "evil", and why assume they have pulled the wool over the eyes of his writers?

Mr. Battelle, you are willfully missing the point: people believe you and your writers to be FULLY COMPLICIT in Microsoft's "evil" - bought and paid for- and that it is YOU who are trying to pull the wool over your reader's eyes.

If your writers aren't easily fooled- well, neither are your readers.

You are not fooling anyone, only making a fool of yourself and your staff- whose credibility is fast ebbing away.

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From: Dave (Jun 24 2007, at 17:37)

I believe I meant to say, "with great charity"...

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From: John Hart (Jun 25 2007, at 08:08)

I wonder if "Conversational Marketing" is a natural outgrowth of giving away content on blogs while still needing to eat & thus get paid. The "old media" model which at least tried to enforce a wall between advertising & editorial seems quite honorable in comparison to the laissez-faire, you-figure-it-out approach advocated by Battelle.

I had a hard time taking his post very seriously after noting his repeated use of the phrase "lend my voice" when really he means "sell my voice."

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From: Jon Barry (Jun 25 2007, at 11:21)

Microsoft has a problem, they are terrible at articulating a vision, they never seem to have any subtly, it always feels strangely "cult-like" the groups of people, the Stepford Wives look the people have. Their ads and promotional material are so easily identifiable, and not in a good way. I find that outside of the US some of their ads look clumsy, they look like US imports with no obvious tailoring to local markets. They then compound the problem but talking complete bollocks , "people ready" , yep sure.

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From: John (Jun 25 2007, at 16:42)

check out the parody website for People-Ready, http://www.wipeready.com/ .

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From: Dan Ciruli (Jun 26 2007, at 15:11)

Like other commentors, I have trouble believing that the lameness of the People-Ready campaign is the root of the issue. Nearly all slogany campaigns are lame. "The Network Is the Computer." "Think Different." "We put the dot in dotcom." They rarely convey any information, and are only meant to impart some generic sense of good feeling.

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