Breaking the Open and Honest Mantra

Want to know what happens when companies start breaking the Open and Honest mantra? NVidia gets busted for stealth marketing – giving major freebies to a small group who couldn’t share their association with NVidia but were encouraged to promote them. From this article (where there’s much more info):

About a week ago, The Consumerist stumbled upon claims made by various gaming websites (specifically, Elite Bastards and [Update: a poster on the forums at] Beyond3D) that graphics chip manufacturer Nvidia, in cooperation with the Arbuthnot Entertainment Group (AEG), had seeded various gaming and PC hardware enthusiast sites with pro-Nvidia shills. That is to say, that AEG would hire employees to create ‘personas’ in various gaming communities, slowly building up the trust of other members by frequent posting unrelated to Nvidia, to later cash in that trust with message board postings talking up the positive qualities of Nvidia’s products.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think the initial concept of connecting and working directly with a select group of fans is a great idea. Heck, that’s the core of the idea I put together at LEGO, the LEGO Ambassadors.

Where the concept goes off the rails is in the "stealth" component. This is a terrific idea, why would you try to hide it?? The answer to that is likely quite simple, of course. They’re trying to create artificial buzz, rather than true buzz. Artificial buzz doesn’t have the same reliance on a quality product that real buzz does.

But once off the rails, the worst problem was the reaction. As you can see in this mail to the blogger that broke the story, the tone of the NVidia rep was horrid:

Hey Joel.

Boy – read your article – you couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.

Do you really not know what AEG does? Did you go to their website? Do you understand their business?

Seems before you write an editorial article on this you would educate yourself.

AEG helps us to manage the online community – we engage with some NV fans to help educate people on the web.

They are NOT hired actors!

They are NOT “shils”!

Happy to answer more questions – but it seems as if you need to do some research first.

Cheers Derek

This is the head of Public Relations for NVidia? Do you honestly think he would ever talk to a journalist like this?? Yeah, I doubt it too.

The worst part of this whole situation, however, is the fact that there’s such an incredible opportunity for real buzz to be created by showing that NVidia wants to work closely with their fans, to support the gaming community however they can.

I’m going to invite the AEG folks to come on the Community Guy podcast. I’m very intrigued by the description of their services, and am curious to see what type of approach they take. Is it more about connecting NVidia to their consumers? Or is are they more focused stealth marketing? If you want to know the answer, leave a comment!