Microsoft sows anger and confusion

In the past I’ve been hesitant on this blog to criticize the actions of other agencies and how they handle blog programs, even egregious examples like fake blogs being setup and other clear violations of the playground rules. It might be out of a sense of decorum – that it’s simply bad form to lay into a rival – or because should I screw up in the future I wouldn’t want to be dragged over the coals by those folks. I’m not sure what the reason is but it’s not something I’ve been anxious to do.

I feel the need, though, to chime in on the current situation involving Edelman and Microsoft. Microsoft, through a program setup and executed by Edelman, sent free Acer Ferrari laptops pre-loaded with the new Vista operating system to various bloggers. While it seems that some bloggers were contacted in advance asking if they were interested in getting the mailing others were surprised to find a laptop on their front porch (scroll down to Update #2 for Scott’s recounting of this). Whatever the case, it does not appear that either Edelman or Microsoft were requiring any positive coverage out of this. Certainly they were hoping for it but there doesnot appear to be any “If you don’t love it we’ll sue you” sort of language in any of the communications I’ve read.

Where we start to get murky is in the fate of the machines. To keep it, return it or do something else seems to have been the dilemma most bloggers were wrestling with and it’s this point that I think caused some of the imagined outrage. The email that Michael Arrington reposted at CrunchNotes makes it clear that what the bloggers did with the laptops was completely up to them to decide. All Microsoft asked was that they be notified of that decision when it was made. I certainly applaud Scott Beale’s decision to auction it off and donate the proceeds to the EFF but am disappointed that the guy was basically pressured by others into feeling bad about getting a gift. Scott did nothing wrong here. He disclosed that he got a machine, where he got it from and certainly didn’t sugarcoat how he’s not usually a Windows guy but thought this was still cool. He was open and honest and got hammered for it.

Some seem to think that it was Microsoft/Edelman’s responsibility to hold a gun to the head of the recipient and force them to disclose everything about how they came to be in possession of a new Vista-loaded laptop but I disagree. Disclosure is always – ALWAYS – in the hands of the media. Some unscrupulous marketers (and I’m not accusing Edelman or Microsoft of this) will always try to buy a good review by wining and dining influencers, reviewers and other opinion makers. It’s the ethical standard of those opinion makers that dictates to what extent they disclose any incentives they might have received.

Since I’ve been at MWW Group I have advised on many occasions that clients send products to bloggers to review, sample or otherwise check out. In fact we’re working on a significant program along these lines right now. Doing so is no different, at a basic level, than handing out free cookies to commuters outside a train station. You’re trying to influence that person’s opinion and, if things go well, they’ll share that opinion with others who will also be moved. This is just bigger because it’s an expensive laptop and not a package of cookies. But it’s the same motivation on the part of the marketer.

There were some mistakes made, or at least some glaring omissions in the planning and follow-up process that I think have contributed to the backlash. First, it’s unclear whether this is coming from Microsoft or Edelman. That’s a problem since, to my mind, there needs to be one person or group handling this. That prevents the confusion that will come from multiple figures thinking they’re in charge, something that can lead to contradictory and confusing messaging. It’s exactly that confusion that likely led to the second problem, which is this email to Marshall Kirkpatrick telling him the best thing he could do would be to return the laptop.

What strikes me most is the deafening silence from Steve Rubel. While I certainly don’t expect Steve to chime in on everything Edelman does, he’s in a unique position to clear up some of the misunderstanding and confusion that’s come up. Instead, he’s declaring this, that or the other thing “dead.” I implore you, Steve, weigh in on this. You’ve shown a willingness in the past to cover Microsoft “as a blogger” so I don’t think it would be out of bounds for you to take an opinion on this simply “as a blogger.”

As I mentioned, MWW Group is working with a client on a similar program in the near future. So, to wrap this up, I’m asking for the community’s input. Right now the program has three major points of initial contact with the bloggers we’re reaching out to: 1) What’s your address, cause X wants to send you something; 2) Here’s what the program is, please opt-in/out and 3) The actual product being mailed. So in these communication points how much do we need to pressure the blogger to disclose what they’re getting and why they got it? Right now there is some basic language there about how there’s no requirement that they blog about any part of this, we just thought they’d be interested and please let us know how it works out. Do we need to go further in the interest of avoiding any appearance of impropriety?

I’m interested to hear what everyone thinks. Feel free to leave a comment, email me at chris-at-mww.com or IM me at mmmthilk. I’d love to put up a follow-up post with everyone’s email or IM reactions but, of course, will be sure to get your permission before doing so.

Quick Takes: 12/28/06

Happy Birthday to me. 12/28/74.

  • Keith O’Brien is also talking about the intersection of video games and movies. Like Keith, I marvel that there hasn’t been a Big Lebowski video game to date. It would have to, of course, include the phrase, “Don’t mess with the f****n’ Jesus.”
  • The Newsarama blog passes along some predictions from The Motley Fool (disclosure: They’re a client of the agency I work for) on how Marvel’s 2007 films are going to impact the company.
  • Erik Davis at Cinematical has a list of the top ten trailers of 2006.
  • MediaPost has the top entertainment properties of the year, including which films faired the best.
  • In the same vein, Kate lists her top entertainment things of year, from music to movies to TV.

Movie Marketing Madness: Children of Men

“In a world…” is the worst possible way to start off a trailer or, Heaven forbid, an actual movie. Maybe it was alright once, a long time ago, but that phrase has now become so cliched thanks to its use in so many spoofs and parodies of trailers and movies that it’s now meaningless.

But that’s exactly the premise behind Children of Men. The movie takes place in a not-too-distant future, 2027 to be exact, where some unknown cause has rendered women across the planet incapable of having babies. That, of course, means that the human race will cease to exist in a generation. The knowledge of impending doom and the corresponding governmental draconian policies have led to widespread terrorism in Great Britain, which views itself as the last standing democracy on the planet. Theo Faron is brought into a plan to save the species when his ex-wife, now an activist, shows him that her group is in possession of a miracle – a pregnant woman.

The film, by director Alfonso Cuaron and adapted (loosely, from all accounts) from the PD James novel, has been garnering some of the most universally positive reviews I’ve ever seen a film get. It’s skyrocketed to the top of a host of “Best of the Year” lists from major critics, which has brought what might have otherwise been a minor film some huge publicity. So much good press, in fact, that I think it’s largely overcome what I felt to be the biggest hurdle, the likely lack of distribution support. But let’s dive into the formal campaign.

The Poster

I really like how simple and effective this poster is. The text on the top half lays out the setting of the film perfectly and the image of a fetus at the bottom is so striking, playing into not only the plot of the film but the idea that all life is a miracle. Finally, the credits that it gives Cuaron, both his independent Y Tu Mama Tambien and the mainstream Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, makes him accessible to audiences both mainstream and discerning, no easy task. It’s so frakin’ awesome in its simplicity.

The Trailer

Everytime I watch this my jaw hits the floor. Everything about the movie is laid out here, the setting, the plot, the characters. It’s so visually arresting, with the wonderfully timed cuts it sucks me in every time. I can’t even figure out how to describe it. It’s awesome.

Online

The official website is loaded not only with good movie information but also with a ton of film clips that are accessible when you visit the various sections. Instead of boring you with my write-up of everything that’s on here I want you to spend that time going over and playing with the site. When I initially viewed the site I thought it was the best example I had seen of how to build a “sticky” site for a movie and I maintain that opinion now.

Overall

It might not seem like it with the short bit I’ve written here but I truly think this is one of the strongest campaigns to come out of a major studio in quite some time, specifically for a smaller film with little mainstream appeal. It’s that subtle, quite strength that really impresses me and makes me want to see this movie all the more. I simply don’t have much to add but

End of the year housekeeping

Just wanted to drop a few notes here at the end of the year about the site.

First off, I’ve turned my Amazon Store into a sort of list of my recent readings. You’ll see I’ve been quite busy reading some very good books. Some I’ve reviewed some I haven’t but they’re all absolutely worth checking out.

Second, I have removed the Performancing ads from my site based on the news that the network has been acquired by PayPerPost, the program that pays bloggers for mentioning brand or product names. I’m not saying Performancing has done anything wrong but my disagreement with PayPerPost’s deal runs pretty deeply. Update: The ad network apparently wasn’t part of this sale. The original TechCrunch post only excluded the plug-in blog editor, which I took to mean that the network was part of the sale. That being said, Tris Hussey isn’t too thrilled about the sale of the metrics portion of the business either.
Lastly, I’m going to be working on actually writing the “About MMM” page so that it actually contains some information, you know, about MMM.

I’ll be posting more but wanted to wish you all a Happy New Year. Try not to shoot anyone in the face.

Quick Takes: 12/26/06

  • The DVD release of Alex Rider: Stormbreaker has been branded with a “Blockbuster Exclusive” sticker since this is from the Weinstein Company.
  • Jeff Wells doesn’t like the 2007 Oscar poster either, saying all the lines on it are ones that he’s already sick of. Completely agree.
  • See a suitably whacked-out online ad for Pan’s Labyrinth.
  • Official websites have been launched for Fantastic Four 2, The Number 23 and Hairspray.
  • The LA Times looks at the controversy over the meat-filled poster for Hostel II.
  • ClickZ points out the Greencine, a DVD rental site that caters to a more elite crowd, has begun embedding the YouTube-hosted trailers for the movies it rents.
  • The Newsarama blog has the clues you’ll need to access a site that was briefly referenced in the Transformers trailer.
  • Director Danny Boyle is talking about the work he and others were doing on the Sunshine website and reminds us of all the RSS feeds that are available for updates on the flick.

Paying for advergames

I’d originally intended to write this up for AdJab but, the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a better fit over here.

eMarketer has a report on advergames and how effective they can be as marketing tools. Specifically they focus on Burger King’s $3.99 Xbox games featuring their King mascot. The question that they use as the title of the story, “Will Consumers Pay For Advergames,” is easily answered when you look at the world of movie tie-in games. The story makes it sound like Burger King had to adopt such a low price point since they were essentially asking people to buy a glorified commercial. But that’s what gamers have been doing with movie-related titles for years. The games for Superman Returns, the Lord of the Rings series, James Bond and dozens of others may very well be decent games in and of themselves but they’re primarily ways to continue the marketing efforts for the movies they’re tied to.

These games use the same promotional imagery, the same character design and often the same talent as the films, making them de facto marketing components. People routinely pay regular game prices, $40 and more, for these titles without batting an eye. The lower price point from BK was the result of there likely not being much to the game play. If it had been a fully developed game they probably could have charged the same amount as the rest of the Xbox games on the market.

LOTD: December 26th

Rounding some stuff up from before the holiday as well as this morning.

  • An Australian court has ruled that simply linking to copyrighted material is enough to be an offense.
  • Jackie and Ben show how one blogger’s efforts led to mainstream media coverage of some controversial cameras in downtown Chicago. That coverage then resulted in the cameras being removed.
  • Shel Holtz is worried about the amount of spam pitches he and others are going to get thanks to Umbria’s new system of selling batches of URLs of bloggers to marketers.
  • Shel also is talking about how old media can actually adapt to the new media world.
  • If you’ve been itching for a chance to work with Joe Jaffe he’s got two ways we all can participate in the creation of his next book.
  • Mack Collier is finding that his “Z-Lister” meme is having exactly the effect he hoped it would and sending new links to some off-the-beaten-path sites whose owners put up consistently good content.
  • An excellent overview of YouTube, both its uses and dangers, from the LA Times.
  • I’ve always been, well let’s just say skeptical of what Microsoft had in mind when it started mucking around with RSS. So I’m not encouraged by the patent filings by the company that have everyone buzzing.
  • Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales got some money from a group of sources and will be attempting to launch a search engine to rival Google next year. The search wouldn’t be algorithm based but, like Wikipedia, rely on the judgment of the community to determine search results.
  • Andrew Baron is trying to remind people he’s still around.
  • I think Rick Klau from FeedBurner is right. If we can overcome the education gap that exists with RSS it can truly change the way content is delivered. As soon as anyone I know has discovered it they wonder how they ever searched the web without it.
  • Everybody’s speculating that big media companies are lining up to buy AOL or Yahoo!. Yeah, cause the whole AOL/Time Warner thing worked out so fantastically.
  • Business networking site LinkedIn has been valued at $250 million.
  • The New York Times makes some media predictions for 2007.

2007

Not looking pretty for the theater chains. DVD releases are happening sooner because studios are desperate to recoup the money they didn’t make during the theatrical release, the audience is increasingly choosing to stay home and play video games and prices are just too high for people to go out. That could lead to 2007 seeing some chains shuttering and others competing fiercely for the public’s attention.

Remind me again why the studios are propping these people up? Isn’t it in their financial interest to get as much money as possible, even if it means cutting out theatrical exclusivity?

Quick Takes: 12/23/06

I’ve got a bunch of official websites to review and trailers to watch but here’s some misc. news to get you through the holiday. Be back soon.

  • Amazon will begin offering digitally downloadable versions of the movies that go through their CustomFlix niche service. The downloads will be sold through the controversial Unbox system.
  • Chicago’s Field Museum is partnering with other area attractions to offer tickets to the IMAX version of A Night at the Museum as well as other movie-themed items.
  • The DVD cash-cow could be running dry as sales begin to slow down at major retailers. I think this is a mix of general dissatisfaction with the movies, a growing list of alternatives, discontent with there always being a new “Special Edition” in the offing and a variety of other factors.
  • Rolling Stone has a list of the top recut trailers of 2006.
  • Notice any similarities on this list of good but under-seen movies from 2006? That’s right – Almost no marketing support.
  • A new, very obvious poster and a handful of stills from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been released.
  • Former MoviePoopShoot editor Chris Ryall is co-writing a comic prequel story to the big-screen Transformers flick that will be published beginning in February.
  • Speaking of Transformers, the version of the new trailer on the official website ends with Optimus Prime speaking the line that won the “Make Prime Speak” contest.
  • Special Ops Media, one of the brightest houses around, has been tapped by First Look Studios to be its lead interactive agency.
  • Anne Thompson points to an archive of vintage film posters.
  • Check out the online ads for The Good German and The Good Shepherd. I’m now studiously avoiding any jokes revolving around the phrase “The Good German Shepherd.” So much so I think I’m cramping up.
  • There’s also this one for Dreamgirls.
  • I’m honestly drooling over this picture of the Silver Surfer from Fantastic Four 2.
  • Sometimes the personal lives of stars can de-rail even the most concerted marketing efforts.

And now a couple Christmas clips from YouTube: