I and many others have brought up the issue of the Microsoft Bribes to bloggers doing reviews of Microsoft Vista – by giving them free $2200 laptops “to help in their explorations of Vista”. And then taking them back. And then giving them away … ad nauseam. Well David Pogue of the New York Times has the last word on this chicanery – its not just a once a in a lifetime slip, but a recurring tactic by Microsoft. Here is what David had to say:
“Now, I realize that this isnt exactly breaking news; in fact, its three weeks old. I wasnt even going to bring it up, but yesterday I remembered something: this isnt the first time. In fact, Microsoft has tried to buy public opinion in secret over and over again in the last few years. Here are a few examples-mainly, the ones where Microsoft was caught:
– In 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported that Microsoft, during its antitrust trials, hired PR companies to flood newspapers with fake letters of support, bearing ordinary individuals names but actually written by Microsoft PR staff.
-Later, during the antitrust trials, Microsoft attempted to prove the inseparability of Windows and Internet Explorer by playing a video for the judge. But the governments lawyer noticed that as the tape rolled on, the number of icons on the desktop kept changing. Microsoft had spliced together footage from different computers to make its point.
-Then in 2002, Microsofts Web site featured a testimonial called “Confessions of a Mac to PC Convert,” a first-person account by an attractive brunette “freelance writer” about how she had fallen in love with Windows XP. Unfortunately, a Slashdot member discovered that the identical photo was available for rent from the stock-photo libraries of GettyImages.com. Sure enough: Microsoft had hired a PR firm to write the testimonial. The “switcher” did not actually exist.
I am not, and never will be, a knee-jerk Microsoft basher …..But for goodness sake: Why is Microsoft so insecure? Why cant it allow its software to stand on its own? Why does it feel the necessity to spin public opinion using these phony “grass-roots” marketing tactics? Heres a wake-up call to the Machiavellis on Microsofts PR team: bribing bloggers, fabricating reviews and making up letters to the editor makes the company look worse, not better. If Microsoft really wants to earn high marks from the public, it might want to consider earning them the old-fashioned way: By creating products people love.”
Now given CEO Ballmer with Gates as “eminence gris”, it is likely this will not be, in fact, the last word on Microsoft Bribery and Underhandedness. As in the Allchin memo – Microsoft has lost its way. Where Project and Encarta and the buy into Visio were superb – now everyone is dedicated to the status quo – sustaining a Monopoly Money Machine. But worse for Microsoft, it has degraded its brand and increased the level of mistrust for all messages sent out by the company.
Now Microsoft is not alone as a remarkable range of large institutions are being chastised for the authenticity of their messages and the trust the public can confide in them:
– US Business and accounting has to suffer the constraints of Sarbanes Oxley for too many of its community taking wanton liberties on accounting standards and practices with Enron and Worldcom being stellar cases but recently Apples Steve Jobs pushing the limits with stock options backdating.
– Political leadership in the US taking major credibility hits on all aspects of how they planned and waged war in Iraq. M
– Major media like the New York Times, Fox News, and the Washington Post being rocked by plagiarism, conflict of interest and just sloppy reporting and fact checking.
In a world where Trust makes your Brand and the Internet provides a)rapid ways to check your trustworthiness and b)an equally rapid way of broadcasting your lack of trustworthiness, David Pogue is right – Microsoft seems embarked on an embarrassing depletion of its Trust Capital.