Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact|
Like most net users, my mailbox gets its fair share of spam. Many of these
messages promote shonky work-at-home schemes, creams and potions designed
to enlarge or reduce certain parts of your anatomy, no-effort university
degrees, and a raft of other dross.
One component many of these spams have in common are the anonymous
testimonials that they include.
One such spam I received last week included just such a testimonial
from "Gus" who apparently lives somewhere in Virginia, USA.
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Gus was very pleased to endorse a system that involved the republication
of a bunch of extremely valuable "marketing reports" and he claimed to
have earned an average of $10,000 per week for the last two months.
But Gus isn't the only one lending his name and praise to shonky products
Perhaps one of the very first instance of a fictional testimonial to be seen
on the Net was that of the infamous Dave Rhodes.
Those readers who have been using the Net for more than five or six years
will remember Dave. Many millions (probably billions) of chain emails
have circulated around the Net carrying his testimonial as to how his
life changed from poverty to unheard of wealth after he followed the
instructions to "Just send $5 to the name at the top of this
list and forward this message to ten others..."
So where am I leading with this?
Well I think it's safe to say that any company which uses faked or anonymous
testimonials to try and sell its products or services must be viewed with some
suspicion. After all, if people really were impressed enough to provide
such praise, then surely they'd be prepared to identify themselves and stand
behind those comments.
It came as a surprise to many (and no surprise to some) therefore, that Microsoft
have been caught out using a form of this dubious marketing tactic.
On October 9, Microsoft published an anonymous testimonial on their website
titled "Confessions of a Mac to PC Convert".
This testimonial purported to be the experiences of a very attractive young
freelance writer who is delighted to discover that Windows XP "gives
me more choices and flexibility, and better compatibility with the rest of the
technology world" bla, bla bla...
Suffice to say that the very positive, instructional, and PR-ish tone of the
testimonial set alarm bells ringing as to its authenticity. And then there's
the fact that the picture of the writer shows her to be a drop-dead gorgeous
And it's that last point that finally exposed Microsoft's little scam.
An eagle-eyed Net user realised that they'd seen that picture before -- and
was able to verify that the photo was actually just a stock image from
an online photo library
Then, when they posted this fact
online forum, all hell broke loose.
Now at this point, Microsoft could have simply fessed up and said "we didn't
have a picture of the person who wrote the testimonial so we used a stock
image" -- but they didn't.
What did they do instead? They pulled the whole page -- lending weight to
the suspicion that the whole thing, including all that praise, was faked.
Then the Associated Press did some sleuthing and discovered the author
of the document, on which the testimonial was based, to be one Valerie G.
How did the AP find out the writers identity? Well they simply downloaded
the MS Word file that accompanied the original testimonial and poked around
a little. Information such as the writer's name and other clues
to her identity were embedded in the document info section.
Now here's the really suspicious bit.
It turns out that Ms Mallinson works for a PR company that includes Microsoft
amongst its larger clients -- now there's a coincidence, right?
Perhaps Ms Mallinson really did see the light and jump effortlessly from
her Apple into the wonderful world of XP without a single problem -- but there
are also those who suggest that the testimonial is a total work of fiction
(hence its removal from the Microsoft site) and that, faced with a massive PR
disaster, Ms Mallinson's boss might have asked her "do you really want to keep your
Whichever way you look at it -- faked or anonymous testimonials almost
certainly do more harm than good. If a product can't be sold purely
on its merits and the honest comments of satisfied customers then one
really must wonder whether it's something you ought to buy at all.
And I wonder... will my next spam be from Microsoft as they try to tout their
latest product: Windows XP breast enlargement cream?
If you want to see the original article, there's a
a "not found" page) but, since that could be pulled at any moment, I've also
320Kbyte screen dump of the article
If you want to have your say on the contents
of today's column then please do so.
Only comments marked "For Publication" will (if I have time) be published in the
readers' comments section.
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