That Microsoft-AMD-Acer laptop fiasco

, posted: 29-Dec-2006 10:00

TopsyturvyrarriYou can't have missed by now that the blogosphere is on fire over the initiative by Microsoft, AMD and Acer to send out laptops to bloggers. My take on it is that in principle, there's nothing wrong with the initiative. Some bloggers are very influential and since they'll write about what they do and what they have at hand, sending out material that helps them to do so is a good public relations exercise.

Well, that's the theory. In practice however, the whole thing has backfired horribly on the companies in question and on the bloggers who received the laptops. Why? Mainly because Microsoft is one of those companies that can do nothing right in some people's eyes. It is fundamentally evil its opponents say, and therefore, the laptop giveaway amounts to bribery.

From what I can tell, there were no strings attached with the laptop. If you get one, you're free to write that it and the operating system it runs - Vista - sucks.

Even so, the suspicion will always be there that somehow you are obliged to say nice things about the companies in question, or not say negative things. Since there's a continual struggle to establish and retain credibility in any media, casting such aspersion hurts the bloggers.

Show up with an Acer Ferrari 5000 and you'll be tarred as a Microsoft Stooge, basically. It doesn't help that the laptop in question is very distinctive with a bold red design and carbon-fibre cover.

As one of the laptop recipients, Brandon LeBlanc puts it:
At this point - I’m using the non-response tactic for the issue. I screwed up, despite people coming and claiming I haven’t fessed up, I have. I’m moving on. I’m done with the topic. I’ve got more important things to blog about and think about at this time. At this point I don’t even want to look at the Ferrari. I put it back in its box. Folks are free to come here and voice their opinions and what-not but I will not be responding to anymore comments regarding my mistake.

I have no doubt that despite some of my readers “losing faith” in me, that this experience will do nothing but make me a better blogger. I have a better understanding of expectations of me as a blogger are and the specific “code of ethics” that many bloggers use.

Dan Warne of APC Mag goes further and says the whole thing "crosses the line" because "Microsoft isn't a computer company" (I would argue that it is, and it even makes hardware). While I don't think the laptop crosses the line as Warne says, I do agree with him that the stunt is a a PR disaster for everyone.

It's possible that the poostorm could've been avoided if the PR people in charge had taken a more cautious approach, and asked bloggers to sign up for the laptop, and not just sending it out. That way, the ground rules could've been established in advance, avoiding perhaps some of the present controversy.

In the grand scheme of things, the Microsoft/AMD/Acer campaign, allegedly orchestrated by PR giant Edelman, is actually rather innocuous. Compare it to this campaign by Pead PR (which happens to handle part of the Microsoft business in New Zealand, coincidentally enough) in which journalists could win a trip to New York if they inserted into a story the name of one of the agency's client's alcopops.

I don't know if anyone won a trip... or got fired for trying to insert the word into a story.

Update One thought occurred to me this morning: would there have been the same controversy if Apple had handed out Macbook Pros to bloggers? I doubt it.

Other related posts:
Fighting with Windows 8
The Windows Phone 7.5 bouncing tiles bug
Windows Live Essentials betas seem good, but oh so flaky

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