Wow… I have not blogged for a while, but I need to get out my blog silence to share my experience about the IE8 $10K prize competition, which by now, half of the Internet and 80% of Twitter community has commented on. (well OK, maybe not :)

10g Let’s start with some context:

One of the mission of my team is to generate awareness and adoption of Microsoft new products and technologies. Examples of such products and technologies are Windows 7, Silverlight,  Internet Explorer 8.

As part of a vast variety of campaigns and initiatives, including technical briefs, user group interactions, events, press interviews, we launched a competition on the Internet to generate awareness and increase usage of Internet Explorer 8. Initially targeting the student audience, the decision was to make it a bit edgy, throwing some  punches at the competition. The intent was not to be arrogant or offensive but just to use some level of emotional tension to cut through the clutter and create some noise and buzz in the online community. WOW… let me tell you, it certainly generated noise. After Long Zhen a popular blogger in Australia picked up the competition, the Twitter universe went craaazy, mentions of the site ended up #3 on Digg/technology, #3 on twitterly overall (#1 was the Iran election?!), generating hundreds if not thousand of comments and tweets.

Not surprisingly, there was a massive polarization in the comments, ranging from:

Haha, brilliant! The entire 10 grand campaign is just retarded. It's not surprising that Microsoft have to offer $10,000 AUD for people to switch browsers tho.

To

I don't know what everyone is bitching about. They are just trying to market their product. What's wrong with that? If Google or Mozilla did this everyone would be talking about how cool it is. Instead, everyone is calling Microsoft desperate and retarded. Let's put it this way. Microsoft still owns 90% of the computer market. They are in no way "desperate." Also, $10,000 is chump-change to advertise a product. Even if they got people to download it JUST to do this game, that's $10,000 well spent. Seems like a pretty smart strategy to me.
Sorry I interrupted your Microsoft hate-fest, carry on now.

What was also very interesting to notice was that internally at Microsoft there was some polarization, I received email ranging from:

From:

I am sorry I normally try to stay out of stuff like this but you have to be kidding me! […] Who came up with this bright idea?

To:

I dig it!  Keep it up. […] Let the best browser win! 

Regardless of whether one liked the campaign or not, there was A LOT OF NOISE about it. This allowed the noise in the twitter, digg, etc. “web elite”, to bleed into the broader web and the number of follower to @Tengrand_IE8 the Twitter account you need to monitor to get clues on how to win the competition kept growing steadily as well as the hits on the competition webpage and the IE8 downloads of course.

Of course, many of the comments out very quite negative to Microsoft, I think this campaign was called ‘desperate” or ‘retarded’ more times that I could count, but in many respect, all these people bashing Microsoft were actually helping Microsoft by creating thousands of links on to the competition, getting the word out there etc. If you believe that there isn’t such a thing as bad publicity, this is clearly a huge success :) After 36h on the campaign, there are more than 3500 twitter followers, not bad for a $10K investment. Remember $10K for generating awareness of a product to the masses is really nothing, buying banner, search keywords, putting posters on buses is much more costly.

It is interesting to note that these followers are people not interested in the debate of whether IE8 is superior to Firefox, whether displaying a certain page with IE8 and not FF is contrary to the essence of web standards, these are people interested in having a bit of fun in a treasure hunt, solving riddles and having a chance to win $10K. If in doing so, they happen to download IE8 it is all the better (for us promoting the product) :)

There were also many comments saying, why doesn’t Microsoft use the $10K dollars and make a better product instead. Again, this is missing the point, it is not an either or choice, we are investing as we have for many year on constantly improving our product and at the same time as all companies do (including Mozilla and Google) we complement it with awareness, adoption campaign.

I wanted also to comment on the notion of ‘bribery’ which this campaign was accused many times. Again, this is not about bribery, it is making a compelling event for people to engage, it could have been charity, it could have been winning a trip somewhere, it is really not that different that buying a candy bar and hoping to win a trip to Bali. But what I found most interesting was the duality (bias?) in their reasoning. Let me explain: the same people accusing the campaign of bribery, recommended to spoof the browser user agent (the way we detect which browser hits the site) so one could keep using Firefox while entering the competition. In other words, offering a $10K cash prize is bribery, but cheating is OK… explain me that :)

Another interesting thing happened, the competing community reacted and create another twitter account, well at the time of writing the IE8 one has 3500 followers the other one 55. Again, this is not about bragging, it is about reinforcing the fact that the target audience of this campaign is actually quite happy to engage in this game.

A final point I wanted to make was that this is not even a new thing, striking deals with OEMs, hosting companies or Internet Service Providers to set the default home page or pre-install specific toolbars; or offering to download a toolbar when downloaded popular browser plugins is not evil or bribery, it is common practice used by Adobe, Google, Mozilla as well as Microsoft to reach a larger segment of the population .

In conclusion, we might never know whether this campaign was the dumbest thing or pure genius (most likely somewhere in between) but I am very happy with the campaign so far, (thanks Deeps, Karo and all the other people who have been driving this). The reason I am happy is that the factual results are positive, the target audience is engaging and downloading the product. The $10K are in my opinion money well spent.

This campaign clearly reinforced:

a) The power and rapidity of digital media

b) The polarization of people about what is ‘ridiculous’ and what is ‘genius’ in social marketing

c) The emotion that browsers create in people

Oh and by the way, the competition is still on so go download IE8 and win the $10K :)