December 28, 2006

more edelmany goodness


B. L. Ochman sees another Edelman scandal brewing:

Edelman Has New Ethics Scandal Brewing With Microsoft's Blogger Bribe Campaign

Edelman PR, the folks who brought you Wal-mart flogs, has a new ethics scandal brewing. And this time they're in bed with Microsoft and a group of high-profile bloggers.

Edelman, is handling the launch of the new Microsoft Vista OS, and they're running, and probably also conceived, a campaign to give a group of bloggers free Acer Ferrari 1000 and 5000 notebooks loaded with Microsoft's new Vista. Retail value - $1899.99 - $2,299.99 for the computer, plus the cost of the software.

A group of high-profile bloggers started getting the gifts several days ago. Robert Scoble quipped, "Talk about Pay Per Post."

Having both received and given out free stuff in the blogosphere, I'm not sure if I see what the big deal is. I certainly don't have trouble with it ethically, as long as all parties are being upfront about it. And it seems like they are to me.

My experience with blogger product campaigns tells me that, if you're just trying to turn bloggers into product pimps, you will fail. But if you see it as a way of starting interesting conversations with equally interesting people, your chances of succeeding are far greater.

As I'm fond of saying, a well-executed blogging campaign is an act of love. I personally know both Edelman and Microsoft well enough to know they understand this. So good luck to them.

Posted by hugh macleod at December 28, 2006 7:43 AM | TrackBack

The thing with giving away free things is, normally you just give away the thing, the product - ie Windows Vista. But they're giving away Vista... on an absolutely loaded laptop. That feels like a bribe, while giving away Vista feels like a product test.

Posted by: Guy at December 28, 2006 10:23 AM

Disagree with the "bribe" angle, Gus. If MS had sent me just the software, there's no way I would have installed it on my Tablet PC. But if they also gave me a computer to run it on, I'd try it out. It's a no-brainer, really.

What they're interested in is bloggers trying it out... And to that, they had to make it easy for them. Which, with the laptops, they did.

Two points:

1. Any decent blog campaign is going to get some flak. It comes with the territory. Your best defense is full disclosure,

2. I've seen more than one blog campaign made successful by their detractors i.e. "This will never work! I'm going to tell ALL my ten thousand readers why I think it won't!"

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 28, 2006 10:37 AM

I think AMD will benefit far more than Microsoft. Of course, try buying an AMD laptop without a Microsoft product installed ....

I don't see charity/gifts as unethical, far from it. Bloggers have credibility to maintain and some are known whores anyway, so what's the problem here?!

I'm more worried about Microsoft supplying the infrastructure for the BBC - using my license fee, no doubt. Goodbye Linux lower-thirds, I hardly knew thee ...

Posted by: Mike Peter Reed at December 28, 2006 1:51 PM

I agree with you. Edelman exists to promote and Microsoft exists to sell. If they didn't give away fast boxes to showcase Vista, Vista itself would have looked like a pig. I think that Edelman, AMD, and MS did a just fine thing. I believe Edelman was transparent. What is Edelman's responsibility that the bloggers needed to be as well?

Posted by: Chris Abraham at December 28, 2006 8:44 PM

I LOVE THIS SITE!!! I just accidentally stumbled upon it. Do you have a mailer or do I just save you to my favorites and read what's on your mind each day??

Posted by: Christy at December 29, 2006 12:44 AM


love the cartoon, less impressed with your argument. I also think it shows that Edelman/MSFT fundamentally misunderstand how transparent social networks operate.

Buying a bottle or 2 of SA plonk on your recommendation is one thing, buying an OS on a bought blogger's (a blagger?) recommendation is another. Order of magnitude, level of reversibility etc.

Bigger picture is ethics overall - do you trust a politician, financial advisor or even old media journalist who has been pocketed? Why then should a blogger be any different?

Posted by: alan patrick at December 29, 2006 9:45 AM

Interesting argument, Alan. Which blogger(s) specifically do you trust LESS as a result of their receiving a new laptop?

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 29, 2006 10:06 AM

Some thoughts on your question:

Social "power networkers" are only influential (ie useful) if they are trusted. Overall I would say that the trust heirarchy now is:

1. Highest Trust = person writing without the laptop gift.
2. Next = one who disclosed at point of reception
3. Then = one who was forced to disclose early and was contrite
4. Last = one who was "outed" and/or sees nothing ethically wrong with it.

Does getting a freebie 2 grand Laptop break this trust...well, I think the blogstorm shows there is a deep distaste for all this, and I think thats good - the "Ethics of the Crowd" is in operation here.

As I noted on my blogsite, I think this revolves around the way human social networks operate - people know instinctively that "gifts" like this colour opinions, and while we are tuned to the "wisdom of crowds" we are also very tuned to any "cheating" behaviour in our social networks.

Blogs are very transparent social networks so this sort of stuff *will* get out. LeWeb3 and WalMart showed that you have to be upfront, as you have been Hugh.

Posted by: alan patrick at December 29, 2006 10:25 AM

You didn't answer my question, Alan. Just uploaded more theory and linked to yourself ;-)

One more time: Which blogger(s) specifically do you trust LESS as a result of their receiving a new laptop?

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 29, 2006 11:02 AM


I'm not going to specify names, as that will just divert from the overall discussion - and its not the individuals per se that matter here, but the principle involved (or lack of it?) that interests me.

Imho ethics is an issue the blogosphere needs to address overall - this is just the latest of a bunch of ethical issues that have recently impacted it, and that is the conversation that needs to be had.

Btw I only linked to myself so as not to repeat the whole argument I so carefully and beautifully crafted yesterday - and I've linked to your blog on my blog now, so there :)

Posted by: alan patrick at December 29, 2006 11:46 AM

I participated in what is turning out to be a pretty good conversation over at MPdailyFix with B.L. Ochman about her stance on this issue.

Nice take. I think the last question you ask is an important one.

Posted by: Cam Beck at December 29, 2006 12:30 PM

Alan, Blog ethic conversations are sooooooo 2004... 2003? 2000?

The way I see it, it's your blog, so you're free to adhere to any code of ethics you see fit. If I don't like it, I'll go read something else. We're all grownups here [I like to think so, anyway].

"Something the blogosphere needs to address overall..." I'm not even sure what that means.

Every five months or so, the same conversation reappears. And all the "A-Lister" crap.

One can handle one or two rounds of ENDLESS pontification, but eventually one starts mostly ignoring it.

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 29, 2006 1:13 PM


Some responses:

I think now that serious money (and politics) is coming into blogging, the Ethics conversations will become so 2007.

As to freedom to publish and damn the torpedos, absolutely. But as blogs become more mainstream and rich, expect more serious litigation. Torpedos blow things up.

Re the blogosphere needing to address this overall, like any emerging media once it hits mainstream there will be far stronger scrutiny from without (by its opponents) and (hopefully) within (by its friends). Codes of ethics *do* exist elsewhere, and usually for damn good reason.

As to the "A Lister crap" - not sure what you mean there, but overall the "A listers" have disproportionate influence, and are therefore very attractive to influencers. Sad but true, they will thus also be judged to higher standards than all us arse-end blogs in the long tail.

(I could link to my own blog again about the mathematics of scale free social networks, hit based nature of A lister shows, and game theory of blogging but modesty of course precludes....;)

Anyway, a very good debate....sadly, work intrudes on a fascinating discussion.

Posted by: alan patrick at December 29, 2006 2:15 PM

Yes, I see what you mean, Alan.... I believe what you're talking about will evolve organically, as it always does. I guess I'm an optimist.

Also, as somebody who makes his living via blogging, I feel that the best way to protect my livelihood is by maintaining as high ethical standards as possible.

I've seen people take the high ground, I've seen people take the low ground. And guess which one works better?

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 29, 2006 3:06 PM

Without getting into philosophy or pontificating: I think the issue is best illustrated by comparing the Stormhoek campaign - the best ever - to the Edelman/Microsoft campaign.

Stormhoek: offered free wine to any legitimate blogger who wanted to try it. You said you were interested in their opinions, no strings attached. Stormhoek makes wine. So it is perfectly logical to offer free wine as a promotion.

The campaign was transparent from the time it was an idea to the time bloggers began hosting Stormhoek dinners. That's open, that's honest, that's ethical.

Edelman/Microsoft: Microsoft makes software, not computers. Sending the software on a fully loaded "gift" computer does not duplicate the experience the average user would have. I see the test as flawed for that reason.

Neither Microsoft, nor all of the bloggers who got the computers explained what they were doing and why up front. Or even as it happened.

The transparency is missing, and in social media, that's the key. It's a traditional marketing idea executed in a traditional way in a new medium that has different protocols for disclosure.


Posted by: B.L. Ochman at December 29, 2006 4:46 PM

I don't know if I agree, BL. Seems to me they put the software in the Ferrari laptops to demonstrate what Vista was capable of i.e. they were putting their best foot forward.

Sure, you are right to ask questions. Ethics are important. But I really don't see this as an egregious or cynical move on their part. And even if they get some of it wrong, they'll learn something for next time.

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 29, 2006 5:58 PM

Alan: "Does getting a freebie 2 grand Laptop break this trust...well, I think the blogstorm shows there is a deep distaste for all this, and I think thats good - the "Ethics of the Crowd"..."

Hmmm...I'm wondering how much of the "distaste" is less about Ethics and more about "Jealousy of the Crowd"...

I think you make some excellent points, Alan, and I also agree with Hugh that it's in an "influential" blogger's best interest to maintain ethical standards, so I reckon I'm also optimistic... plus I also have a deep respect for blog readers, and their ability to make smart choices about who they do and don't trust.

So, while I think the ethics issue is important, I think we're underestimating our readers' itelligence by thinking we have to somehow *protect* them from unethical bloggers/vendors. Besides, in the blog world almost everything will be 'outed' one way or another, so being transparent isn't really optional... even if someone else ends up doing the disclosing.

Won't most influential bloggers give up trying to hide things once it's clear they really can't?

I'm just a tiny blip--and so are my products (books)--but if we hadn't given the first ones away to people whose opinions would count, nobody would ever have known about them (and they'd never have ended up in Borders/B&N). Giving things away to people who others listen to is about the only option most of us with no marketing budget have, and if the things we give away are crap, it's just that much quicker and easier today for people to find out.

A few influential bloggers who are (even subconsciously) compelled to give a more favorable review to something than it deserves, well, that'll just demonstrate that they aren't always objective. I'm having a hard time thinking of ANY crap product that will ultimately be successful today, regardless of how many "bribed" bloggers talk it up. For every one big blogger blinded by "a bribe", there'll be thousands of C-listers more than ready to publicly trash a bad product.

I realize you didn't mean it this way, Alan, but I'm just becoming a little frustrated with the implication that blog readers are helpless, clueless sheep.

I have faith.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra at December 29, 2006 6:43 PM

There are a lot of reports of people having problems installing or upgrading to Vista. So I view Microlsoft's sending loaded laptops as more than putting a best foot forward. People who test VISTA should have the same conditions as the rest of the world.

But yes, absolutely, I think everyone involved has learned a lot for next time.

Marketers are all learning as we go.

Posted by: B.L. Ochman at December 29, 2006 7:08 PM

@ Kathy....ah, but did you wrap your books in $2000 eBook readers with Ferrari stickers on them ;)

Your points are well taken re intelligence of readers and vigilance of C listers.

As to ethics vs may be right, but that does not necessarily invalidate the ethics questions raised.

btw, nice blog....and was Scoble right about blogging :D ?

@ depends on whether ye want to get to Scotland afore me.....

Posted by: alan patrick at December 30, 2006 1:10 AM

B.L. Ochman said, "But yes, absolutely, I think everyone involved has learned a lot for next time."

What was learned? Was there a definitive conclusion? I spent some time reading about this today yesterday and today. I see lots of comments about transparency, disclosure, pay per post, etc.

Trust is something that takes years to build and can be erased in a flash. Old news. However, if one of the recipients of the laptop does a fair and balanced review, wouldn't the laptop and OS on it be fair compensation? Most of my work requires testing, taking notes, trying stuff again, more notes, etc. In short, it requires work.

To do a reasonable review of Windows Vista and any laptop would require some work. If they just bestow accolades on Windows Vista and the Acer Ferrari with no opinion on improvements, then I would be suspect of the review.

Oh, and regarding sending the high end laptops versus the “real world” machines we all have, take a look at I just installed Windows Vista on a machine that is over four years old.

Anyway, I admire the folks that send products back. It must be a real hassle for folks that do it for a living but I guess they have staff to help. For the folks that kept the laptop, good for you. I hope you or you family find it useful. We are jealous as hell. :)

Posted by: Keith Combs at December 30, 2006 6:15 AM

If Vista ships with a sticker on the box stating - designed to be installed on a brand new $2000 laptop, then there's no problem. As it won't, there is an issue here and while I agree with Kathy that we can rely on the readers' intelligence, I'm not sure we can rely on the later recipients of blogged opinions (i.e non bloggers and people towards the end of social networks) possessing full awareness of the condiitons under which the product was reviewed. That, of course, applies in all situations but I think the mere "appearance" of trying to dupe the market means there is a problem. I'm not sure it's an ethical one, more an effectiveness one - as the noise in the blogosphere demonstrates.

Posted by: John Dodds at December 31, 2006 5:44 PM

My first thought (which admittedly was selfish) was, "Why the fuck isn't anyone giving ME a free laptop?"

I took a deep cleansing breath and let the anger go, 'cause I recognize my status as an unknown - LOL

But I suspect there are MANY “not-A-list” bloggers, will be pissed off and NOT try to calm themselves down. They'll get mad and stay mad. They'll prod the six people who read their blog to be pissed too. And those six will prod the 5 or 10 people they are blog buddies with, to be angry, and pretty soon there is a widening of the "A-List" vs "all-the-other-bloggers" schism.

And that’s just sad.

I know the blogosphere can’t be a “level playing field” and the exceptionally talented (or connected) will gain more notoriety and name recognition. And with that, will come freebies. The majority of those who blog, will not get free laptops, make thousands of dollars from AdSense, or have millions of visitors. But we can continue to write well about whatever our passions may be, and try not to succumb to envy of those who do.

Blessings to all.

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