Every day I'm reminded why I love the internet. Recently it was because Google Streetview caught some people LARPing but today it's because the wonderful denizens of the web have completely deconstructed the latest Microsoft campaign -- the one called "Laptop Hunters," created by Crispin Porter & Bogusky -- and in doing so have cried foul play.
The "Laptop Hunters" story presents an interesting case study around the importance of being transparent and honest in today's digitally connected word, particularly if part of your audience includes what I like to call the tech savvy "fanboys."
What the fanboys discovered is that Lauren, the average person supposedly invited to participate in this quest for a sub-$1,000 laptop, is not just some random person. She is actually a member of the Screen Actor's Guild.
The boys then took the time to analyze every frame of the commercial in detail. They noticed, for instance, that a random person passing by the Apple store when Lauren walks in is in a eerily comparable position when she walks out, which lead them to question whether the whole event was staged or if she even walked into the store at all.
The final blow came when we then learned about the multitude of negative reviews on this particular HP Pavilion laptop and how that particular setup delivered what could best be described as a poor Vista experience.
Amusingly, an Apple PowerBook user offered to give "Lauren" his laptop free of charge via the Gizmodo blog just so she could understand that everyone "is cool enough to be a Mac person."
For the record, I'm generally a fan of CPB's work and I actually want them to be successful with their Microsoft ads. They're smart and very digitally aware, but I think they forgot that in today's social-media-centric world it's imperative that you're transparent, honest and authentic.
I'm not going to argue with Microsoft's logic of using price as its big differentiator as opposed to focusing on establishing itself as a premium brand alongside Apple. That's not the point. But I will say that if you are going to argue this point, which is something Microsoft could do, then you have to do it right.
What this means is going out and really finding the best laptop you can for under $1,000 and then ideally recommending one with your latest operating system on it. Next, find someone who's not in SAG to be in your commercial.
What's interesting is that there are also times when a brand can find itself on the other side of this coin -- a brand launches a campaign in which it is telling the truth yet gets called out as a liar.
Recently I saw a commercial for the Olive Garden that claimed that the chain had a cooking school in Tuscany, Italy. I couldn't believe they would make a statement like and do it on prime-time TV, where folks like me could easily check and find out that it is a complete lie. As it turns out, it does have a school in Italy. What was far more interesting, though, was the number of people that were online having the same doubts as me and were poking fun at the brand, even though unlike the "Laptop Hunters" example above, The Olive Garden did nothing wrong.
Whether you are Microsoft or the Olive Garden, brands have an excellent opportunity right now to tap into a variety of free social-media-monitoring tools, as well some more advanced tools. Whichever you select, these tools enable you to discover misinformed consumers and politely engage them and let them know real facts about your business. They may also help tip you off that the public has caught onto your little web of lies and give you a chance to right the ship before it's too late.
Sometimes I just don't get it. Is this honesty, authenticity and transparency thing really that hard?
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Freddie Laker is the director of digital strategy at Sapient. He has also founded the Society of Digital Agencies, a collective of notable digital agencies focused on thought leadership and positive industry change, and blogs at takemetoyourleader.com.