Microsoft crosses the line as it bribes bloggers with Vista notebooks

December 27, 2006

Microsoft and AMD have sent free Acer Ferrari 1000 and 5000 notebooks loaded with Vista to a group of high-profile bloggers.

Recipients include Brandon LeBlanc, Scott Beale, Barb Bowman, Mauricio Freitas, Mitch Denny, Zen.Heavengames and Long Zheng. (Update: the machine that Long Zheng will receive is actually a Velocity Micro Media Center PC).

While Microsoft’s PR department may have thought it was a great idea, the give-away is attracting criticism. Journalist Dan Warne made this comment on Long Zheng’s web site:

“This reeks of ‘crossing the line’ to me. It’s fair game for Microsoft to give away all the free software for review purposes it wants. It’s also fair enough to cover the travel and accommodation costs of journalists attending its promotional events and conferences. But giving away whole computers? Microsoft isn’t a computer company! It’s a bit like the owner of a motorway giving journalists free cars.”

The giveaway strategy is problematic at a number of levels.

First, as Warne points out, it’s unheard of for a software company to give away notebooks. In the ten years I’ve been writing about computers this is the first time I’ve heard of this kind of PR give away on this level.

Second, how many bloggers that have received a notebook but have not declared it on their blog? Quite a few I suggest, which highlights up the fundamental problem with blogging, which is that bloggers are not trained journalists and not necessarily in tune with the ethical problems that gifts, such as free notebooks, entail. Long Zheng, for example, treats the gift as though it is some kind of Christmas present.

Third, obviously not every blogger will receive a notebook, which means that some bloggers will feel that they’ve been overlooked. From a PR perspective, rather than creating positive “buzz”, this initiative will actually generate a lot of negative publicity – it’s very easy to criticize something you’re not part of.

Finally, sending bribes to bloggers is not a good look for Microsoft, and this is exactly how this initiative will be perceived. It’s interesting that even as Microsoft’s PR Gurus try to get a handle on the blogosphere, all that they actually do is to demonstrate how little they understand it.

This initiative will be prove to be damaging for Microsoft. No doubt we’ll all still buy Vista, but we’ll just be a little more suspicious about how Microsoft conducts itself as a corporate citizen. 

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22 Responses to “Microsoft crosses the line as it bribes bloggers with Vista notebooks”

  1. Cyber:

    If people are so angry about this then why don’t the blogger’s just give the notebooks back? Or would that be too much to ask?

  2. Cyber:

    P.S. Jealous much?

  3. Mike:

    Hey hey hey,
    I’m all for ethics and disclosure, but thinking that ethics means anything to journalists and the news industry at large is just a little bit foolish lately, don’t you think?

    Jason Blair, Rathergate, AFP’s doctored photos, etc, etc etc. The state of ethics in journalism is pretty dismal.

  4. nate:

    The difference between Journalist and Bloggers is that the Journalists say that Bloggers are not accountable, were as Journalists say that Journalists are accountable. Also journalists tend to have much bigger budgets.

    That’s the only difference.

    You can say the same thing about Journalists and Talkshow hosts. The Journalists say that the Talk Show Hosts are biased, were as Journalists say that Journalists are not biased. Also Journalists tend to have much bigger budgets.

    Again, that’s the only difference.

    I am sure that you can see the pattern here.

  5. brandon:

    of course it’s the asian guy that the author points out as naive and generally clueless. hey whitey, take your colonies and indentured servitude and shove it.

  6. More free stufff:

    I like the “jealous” theory the best!
    Isn’t a journalist with ethics a contradiction? I don’t think “lately” is particuarly relevant…

  7. I'll take two please:

    I’ll take 2 please! Oh and I will even say Thank You politely on a blog of your choice just to piss off the jealous types who didnt get one! As we used to say in school when we learned teh world isnt fair “NAH NAH BOO BOO” hahahaha. Heck I don’t care why you give them to me just go ahead and send them. I could always use 2 more notebooks… K, thank you drive thru

  8. I'll take two please:

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over? Why cant people be happy for others who get something instead of complaining and being jealous while jumping to conclusions. Even if they are trying to buy publicity, that is what advertising and giveaways are all about, trying to get people to use your stuff. I think its a genius idea (although expensive one). I for one am happy for these bloggers and am glad to see microsoft thinking outside the box! yeah go ahead and send me one too while your at it! You may pass…

  9. A smart Guy:

    How is this “crossing the line”? It’s a marketing strategy. So what if I’m a chef and i gave the journalist a bag of my food to take home? Am I crossing the line too? This just gives them more time with the product.

  10. some guy:

    I got a free lcd tv when i purchased a new bed, is that crossing the line? people give things away all the time, even things they dont manufacture or distribute.

  11. John Pospisil:

    I’m very happy for people to disagree with my point of view, but I do object to being called a racist. Long Zheng is a successful blogger, who is therefore in the public eye – that’s the whole point of being a blogger. That’s the only reason why I used him as example. BTW I don’t think the bloggers are necessarily doing anything wrong by accepting the notebook. For example, I don’t see any problem with Long Zheng, who is an 18-year-old student, who has very clearly disclosed the gift, to take his notebook with open arms. The problem I have is with Microsoft who is quite cynically trying to solicit favorable attention in the blogosphere by being overly generous to a group of select bloggers.

  12. Brian Solis:

    Trackback: There is a blogstorm out there with dozens of bloggers, myself included, casting opinions.

  13. ~Me~:

    Do them one better… donate the Microsoft “gift” to charity — AFTER wiping the drive of Vista and installing ubuntu on it!! :P

    ~Ubuntru Rocksssssssssss~

  14. aegis maelstrom:

    I have read the comments and I will just say – wow. Sorry to say, but so many inmature imbeciles I haven’t seen in the Internet for a long time. Personally I though that the concept of basing ethics and such basic understanding of human intentions is shared all around the world. But I was wrong. Obviously U.S. produce more eight-years-old-in-mind-but-pretend-to-act-as-grownups people that I imagined.

    I don’t know which comment is the most stupid. Brandon-boy deserves to be bashed. :) But all of them are inmature – many ppl according to the rule: “the thief believes all the others are thieves – because he/she does not know any better”. And when I do agree that journalism is heavily corrupted, there still are some standards and people who try to keep them.

    That’s that simple. The funniest/saddest are the guys telling “it’s only for trial, we _can_ sand it back. But nobody will, huh? One Mr. Beale is donating EFF.

    But keep rocking. :) At least we know about this laptop giveaway. And low standards of MySpace generation. What’s next?

  15. Steve:

    Yeah, as has already been said (even by you, Mr. Pospisil) the point of companies giving things away is to promote their products. That’s what MS is doing, so … why be mad? All companies do it; freebies, promotionals, etc. (so what if they’re software and sending out hardware? it’s double promotion: one for the software company, one for the hardware company)

    Are we going to start yelling at AOL now because they send out all those damned free frisbees? (well, okay, we do yell at AOL but that’s because we *don’t* want their CDs).

    Also, as has been said, bloggers are unaccountable to anyone but themselves. It makes perfect sense to send a product to a non-representative to have that person test out the product and give unbiased feedback on it. If the blogger doesn’t like it, they can… write a bad review! Or just throw it in the trash. They’re under no obligation to take this GIFT (no strings attached) and write a good review about it. After all, if they do say the product crap, what’s MS going to do: ask for it back?

    Secondly, to overemphasis the point, the products are GIFTS. MS didn’t give them out under conditions (or did they, and I missed something?).

    Thirdly, and most importantly, how can anyone give a proper review of a product if they can’t test it? Pre-sale reviews are critical, so instead of just sending products out to potentially biased companies who might write favourable reviews because they feel like they’re obligated to (tech-savy consumers are going to realize such reviews are potentially suspect, same as they will of bloggers), MS sends products to bloggers who know that this is probably the only time MS is going to send them a free product and so won’t be mislead into writing a good review in the hopes of getting more nifty stuff. Well, if they’re intelligent, thinking humans, that is. And if they’re not intelligent, thinking humans, why bother listening to them regardless of what they have to say?


  16. Steve:

    One more thing: if the blogger/recipient actually does feel like they owe MS something for the gift MS gave them (though I can’t imagine why this would be. I don’t feel obligated to give someone a gift when they give me one. I give gifts when I feel like giving them, not when I feel others expect it of me) then the best present they can possibly give back to MS isn’t a favourable review if it’s a bad product, it’s a realistic review with an indepth critique of all the areas that could be improved. That will allow MS to know what parts of the product can be worked on before official launch time so they have the chance to improve the product.

    And in the end, aren’t improved products something that we all want? :)


  17. Mike:

    If the bloggers hadn’t told of the “gifts” from M$, and had simply began commenting on how great Vista is… that would be against ethics. As it is, they said, “Hey! I got this!” then they may or may not have told their opinion about M$’s new OS. As far as M$’s giving away the computers, well I see nothing wrong with it. M$ has given away many hundreds of computers around the world. M$ gave my local libraries several dozen computers. M$ gave all the schools in my tri-state area all the DELL computers they currently use (which is a LOT). Last time I check M$ wasn’t DELL Corp! But it is okay! It’s just good PR. As far as the bloggers go, if they were told that they HAD to write good things… or anything at all, then I would be jumping as M$. As it stands, I’d say that anyone who looks at this and says “M$ stepped over the line” is simply ignorant as to what makes good PR and is most probably jealous.

    I honestly think that this is a non-issue which maya blogger has made an issue… which is most likely what M$ wanted all along. We have all fallen for the M$ conspiracy! BTW: Any FREE PR is GOOD PR and this is FREE PR for M$! It’s all one big PR trap and we’ve all fallen for it!

    All this being said, if I had gotten the “gift” I would do as already suggested (save for the donate part) I’d back-up Vista (for frostwire or limewire maybe e-bay :-D) then wipe the HDD and install Linux… either Red Hat or Ubuntu. It would be Debian, but there’s something major going on in that community at the moment. Debian may be dead. :-(

  18. Andru Edwards:

    We also have received a fully loaded Media Center PC from Microsoft as part of this campaign. People need to stop complaining – in reality, it really seems that those complaining are those who weren’t chosen. It is COMMON PRACTICE from companies to get their products into the hands of those who review said products, prior to a launch. How else are you supposed to review them before they are available to the general public? This isn’t just for the tech industry – Ebert and Roeper see movies – for free – before they are available to the public. Any problem there? Probably not.

    Plus this is a part of something bigger that Microsoft is doing – the Vanishing Point game, where Loki is the one “planning” these giveaways.

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  20. Bridesmaid Gowns:

    This isn’t just for the tech industry – Ebert and Roeper see movies – for free – before they are available to the public. Any problem there? Probably not.

  21. Marlin Kilzer:

    It’s hard to find experienced people about this subject, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks|

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