Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Communicating dishonesty

Clicked on a banner on BoingBoing this morning that purported to be about a marathon chat using the IM system, which apparently raises money for good causes while you chat on Windows Messenger or Windows Live.

There was a character called's what he apparently says about himself:

who am I & why am I doing this

My name is Parker, and I’m just a guy with a computer and good intentions. A couple of months ago, I found out about the i’m Initiative.

It’s a Microsoft program that gives to a social cause every time you use Windows Live Messenger or Windows Live Hotmail. I saw an ad that said, “The more you talk, the more we give.” So I thought, if I get a bunch of people talking for 30 days, how much will they give?

I hope you join me. Thanks for checking out the Talkathon!

So I started looking around the page, and it didn't take much intelligence or diligence to find this message at the bottom of the page:

If you’re reading this, your BS detector is chirping like a smoke detector with a dicey 9-volt. As you’ve probably guessed, this blog is fictional, but the causes, and the i’m Initiative most certainly are not. The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness of the i’m Initiative and the worthy causes it helps. If we rubbed you the wrong way in the process that wasn’t our intention, so “sorry, our bad.” The alternate was something called an “e-mail blast.” But, believe us that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds. A herd of well-compensated legal professionals in Redmond, Washington, says we also need you tell you something:

The Parker Whittle character depicted herein is fictitious and his activities are described for illustrative purposes only.

Rubbed me the wrong way in the process?? RUBBED ME THE WRONG WAY IN THE PROCESS??

YES you rubbed me the wrong way in the process. The marathon is supposed to be about communication - people talking to each other. How, pray, am I supposed to communicate with a fictional character? This initiative illustrates all that is wrong about old marketing and why it is going to be really bad for companies if they don't think more carefully about how they communicate with their customers. Pages of negative comments, interspersed with a few people who seem to have traded in their bullshit detector for an ass-licking course (and are they real, or undercover Microsoft employees desperate to put in some positive comments?).

Everything in the who am I and why am I doing this is a lie, fabrication, artificial. Why couldn't they have wheeled out the truth? Presented the marketing man or PR company employee who came up with the idea and pitched it to Microsoft? Or found someone who could sign up to the idea with their own name and personality intact? Of course, it is true that I am terribly suspicious of any person purporting to promote anything nowadays... but this just seems so tacky and so artificial it is really not just annoying but insulting.

Whoever came up with this, didn't think about the impact it would have on the sort of people who signed up to the IM campaign in the first place. People who hope they are contributing to something by signing up. Genuine and caring people... the last people any company should wish to annoy. It's only day 2 and they have already managed to diminish any respect I had for the company... which is at an all time low anyway, as I am struggling with problems caused by Windows Vista fighting with Second Life (vista is winning).

I'm wondering why the site blog has gone blank and what will appear there now.

Update: Even stranger... I have found a real person, maybe, maybe not, called Parker Whittle on myspace. It's beginning to mess with my head all this... is he and his myspace page real or not? If he IS real and not a figment of Microsoft's imagination, is he just being paid to do the Talkathon thing or will he see them in court? I think we should be told....

It seems likely they pulled the blog posts to be able to pull the comments which were pretty negative. I wonder if they will return when they fix up the posts? Any fule know that you don't pull posted posts unless desperate - or sober after an alcohol-fuelled ranting.

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