So I am a member of a select group of bloggers (I don't really know how many of us are in it) who have received the new Noka N90 video camera phone as part of a clever PR campaign. I have started to fool around with it, after an initial SIM card hiccup, and what I see is impressive. In fact, the quality of the video is so good that I plan to use the N90 -- experimentally, anyway -- for a few interviews this coming week. I'll even try to use the on-phone video editing software. Yes, you heard me: on-phone video editing software.
But I was sniffing around to see what others thought of the phone, and I stumbled onto a controversy about the marketing approach being used by Nokia over at Clogger:
[from Nokia phone is off the hook]
Nokia's new clog [corporate blog] around the N90 phone is a piece of marketing genius. In reality, it has just repurposed a load of public content, packaged all its collateral surrounding the phone and stuck the whole shebang in a blog. Having sent sample handsets to a number of high-profile bloggers, it's tracking coverage on the N90 blog and linking back.
Can you see what it did there? The bloggers are doubly chuffed [British for happy with life] - not only do they get a link on a high-profile corporate site but they get a new freakin' phone! And not just any phone! This is phone is cutting edge, dude! Check it out! It's off the hook!
Positive blog reactions from bloggers not used to getting free stuff - let alone free stuff worth hundreds of pounds and freshly created in geek heaven - are a given. Even reasonably ethical clogger and housewife's favourite Loic le Meur can't help admitting that he should say something nice about the phone seeing as he got it free.
Check out the fatuous thankyou message in the post's comments from the Nokia marketing drone: "Thanks for the kind words and the great "exposure" in the magazine." [Loic got a placement for the phone in a French magazine]
Brilliant. Just send him a cheque, eh? Am I the only one who can see this is wrong?
Except that Clogger is missing the point, or at least a part of the point. The phones are distributed without any condition that we write about them. There is a small-print-ish proviso -- namely, that Nokia can ask for the phones back at anytime. And I, for one, really want to see the newest stuff as early as possible. I am happy that they send it to me instead of having to go to a trade show to see it.
The implication is that we are being subtly influenced by Nokia, and will naturally -- without even knowing, perhaps -- write more glowing praise for the N90 than we would otherwise. I doubt it. If the phone sucked, I would say so, and I'd happily send it back when the marketeers decided that I was bad juju. But the phone is cool, and I am happy to say so.
And Andy Abramson, the "corporate drone" involved in the program responded to Clogger's invective in this way:
[from comment to the post, above]
We set out from the start to establish and implement a different kind of corporate blogger program, one that is not "shill" based, nor one sided, and one which is more about the bloggers and citizen viewpoints not just company speak.
We wanted the bloggers to really review the products, not just write commentary based on what they have seen in other reviews. You see, from our perspective a review is about first hand experience, not critical comments on other people’s observations.
We also didn’t create fake personalities that go out on the web and post comments, draw attention or “ambush” anyone. We leave that to companies we know specialize in that sort of thing. Instead what we are doing is done straight up, out in the open. I post under my real name. My company is aligned to the program. Nokia pays the bills.
The difference with this program is we’re making it easy for the bloggers to have access the products and the official information. We’re treating them and valuing them like members of the press and we’re engaging with them, by communicating with them and working with them.
We’re not opting to treat them the way Hollywood press agents treat paparazzi. Loving them when they need them, wooing them when they want them or treating them like something on the bottom of a shoe once success has fallen upon their client. That’s a PR One old school approach. We’re an asymmetrical PR 2.0 company that is working in a Web 2.0 world that blogging resides in.
To which Clogger's nobleizer responded:
[from another comment at the above post]
I take back the 'drone' label. You're comments on PR 2.0 and asymetric marketing are spot on. And as I said in my post, Nokia's 'blogger relations' programme was a stroke of pure genius that I'd expect from a company so good at what it does. (Except that awful Nokia Game thing I once tried - I got so bored I nearly died.)
I appreciate that you're attempting to treat bloggers like members of the press. I also understand that you're trying to treat them well, and not just pick them up then dump them once you've fulfilled your marketing objectives.
But bloggers are not the press. They do not subscribe to the fundamental processes that trained journalists live and die by. They don't give a toss about impartiality, or public interest, or the protection of sources. They are just people without an understanding of the complex issues that come with being responsible for influencing public opinion.
As I said, I think it's a VERY clever thing you've done.
This 'members of the press' nonsense is a bunch of hooey. Abramson is not trying to treat us like the press, he is trying to create a dialogue about the phone's features with a bunch of bloggers. And, yes, I don't really give a 'toss about impartiality', in fact, I believe its a dangerous myth. But the turn into "the public interest and the protection of sources" is bizarre. We are talking about cell phones here, not government policies or top secret prisons in East Europe. And, I strongly dispute the statement that bloggers don't understand "the complex issues" involved in influencing public opnion.
The way the blogosphere works is such that those that are influential have become influential because many other people find their writing persuasive and helpful. Its the wisdom of crowds. We gain influence because of people choose to be influenced by what we say. If we spout a load of garbage then people will tune us out, and we will lose our influence.
Regarding the cell phone marketing campaign, specifically, I doubt that the bloggers involved will lose credibility if we state the N90 is a cool phone. I don't think some moral threshold has been crossed over. Note that I was one of the most vocal opponents to the Marqui "pay the bloggers" campaign last year -- which I call "Marquiism" -- and I maintained at the time that the line that was crossed there was exactly the "pay for mention" clause in the agreement. There is no such deal, here.
And, oh, did I mention that it is a really cool phone?