No, it’s not really a “conversation”

I haven’t posted anything about the current “blog storm” over Microsoft’s ad campaign involving FM Publishing (which started with this post at Valleywag) because I wanted to take some time and think about it a bit — and in the blogosphere, waiting even a few hours seems to be an eternity 🙂 We’ve got a whole spectrum of opinion out there about the propriety of “A-list” bloggers providing quotes for Microsoft to use in advertising: Mike Arrington, for example, is poo-poohing the whole controversy.

arringtonmalik.jpgPaul Kedrosky is also leaning towards that end of the spectrum — although he admits that he now thinks the decision to provide a quote was probably unwise. And Fred Wilson seems to see it as a mountain built from a molehill as well. He takes Nick Denton of Valleywag to task for being “old school,” and not recognizing that bloggers might want to participate in a “conversation” with advertisers. Om Malik, meanwhile, has been beating himself up about it and has apologized profusely for his decision to take part.

I appreciate Mike’s point — the FM ads are obviously ads, and the company has done the same thing with Cisco and other companies, which never became the subject of controversy (perhaps because no one realized they even existed). So no big deal, right? Except that I think there is a deal — maybe not a big deal, but a medium-sized deal. And as usual, my friend Tony Hung puts his finger on it in his post: this is not a “conversation” the way we would normally think of one, as much as Fred wants to make it one.

Let’s imagine it this way: If I’m talking to a bunch of people in a bar, and an advertising guy working for Coke comes up and tries to change the subject to the idea of “refreshment,” and says that he plans to tape-record my comments and use them on a billboard, then I am going to react pretty negatively to that idea. That’s not a “conversation” the way I would define it.

And for Mike and Om to take part in an ad campaign — to lend their words to Microsoft’s ownership of a slogan, as Tony notes, does seem more than a little awkward given the role they are trying to play in new media. Fred and Paul have slightly different roles to play, as my friend Rob Hyndman notes in his post on the subject, and therefore different considerations to make.

I haven’t lost any respect for Mike or Om (or Paul or Fred) as a result of the campaign, but I still think being involved was probably a mistake. Scott Rosenberg of Salon, who has been around the block a few times as far as online media goes, has some thoughts that are worth reading on the subject.

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