For the record, while there are certainly “Manchurian Fans” being hired to promote products in the games and/or gaming hardware world, Nvidia and AEG have both clearly denied that they have hired stealth marketers to create personas to promote Nvidia products. We have no reason not to believe them and have stated that elsewhere on the site, but am putting it up again just to outline it. (Naturally, we’d like to know who is hiring these stealth marketers, so feel free to pass on anything regarding this you feel germane.)
When we first wrote the story we were led to believe that something along these lines was occurring. Mr. Perez’s four day silence after his last reply saying, essentially, that it’d be easier/better for him to discuss this on the phone seemed like he wanted to avoid the questions entirely. (He never called or returned further emails, even the one I sent on Friday saying I was planning on running my story on Monday.)
There’s a very good post on the Beyond 3d forums posted tonight where an Nvidia Focus Group member posted details of the program and his participation in it. The program sounds pretty great. Soliciting opinion from your customers is something we whole-heartedly encourage.
But why was the Focus Group program hidden?
AEG states in a statement to Shacknews that “The names of those individuals whom we solicit opinions from are not made public in order to assure the quality and honesty of feedback from consumers.” Isn’t it fair to the peer group of the Focus Group participants to know that their trusted source happens to get free gear from Nvidia?
The point isn’t that the program is inherently bad. It’s that hiding the program is both a disservice to their customers and leads to assumptions that other, more nefarious programs could be going on.
At one point in our post-story phone conversation, Mr. Perez—after spitting out the stock-standard, “Hi, nice to talk. Expect to hear from my lawyers,” routine—tried to ‘educate’ us about the way that PR was changing in the internet age. Because so much marketing is done via word-of-mouth recommendations these days, he explained, it was important for Nvidia to “reach out” to the community and take advantage of the enthusiasm of their most hard core fans to act as liasons and “their voice” in the community.
What he didn’t seem to understand (and maybe he could get his lawyers to help explain it to him) is why the customers who aren’t part of the Focus Group might want to know who was in the program, so they could know who to trust. Until The Consumerist posted this story yesterday, was the Nvidia Focus Group even publicly acknowledged at all? If it’s so innocent and innocuous, why not?
We never had to ask if our TV was lying to us, because we know it does. We don’t go out for beers or talk about games with our radios. These days, with direct contact with their customers, marketing initiatives have to be transparent else risk alienating their base. Every time a company interacts with the community, they have a responsibility to put all their cards on the table. PR is changing, but it’s changing because the customers are smarter and more connected than they used to be.
Mr. Perez posed this question to us: If a customer goes to the store and purchases an Nvidia product, then writes a review of the product online, is the opinion any less valid than when the customer receives the product for free? We feel the answer is obvious. That Mr. Perez sees no conflict of interest is a testament to his and Nvidia’s poor grasp on the changing nature of consumerism.
We encourage Nvidia and AEG to retool their Focus Group program to be fully transparent. Trust in your customer’s ability to make an informed decision. We can handle it.