Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Welcome to the Dumpster, Part 2

Nvidia has apparently identified this issue as a major PR hit if they don't address it quickly. Derek Perez gave a long and frequently contradictory interview to IGN in which he basically didn't deny anything--although he seemed to.

Welcome to the twenty-first century, where PR guys parse every single word so that in not telling the truth, they're still not actually lying.

Here's the link to the full interview:

First off, IGN's conclusion to their own article is that after speaking to Derek, it's clear to them that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. Gentlemen, before drawing conclusions, it would be extremely helpful if you would read all the words that you've typed on the paper.

Dissecting this rotten fish is going to take some analysis, and I apologize in advance for how long this is going to be.

Here's the first important thing Perez says:
We don't pay them, we don't retain them, we don't tell them what to say, we don't tell them when to say it…We do not, us and our agency, pay, push, arm twist, strong arm -- we don't do any of that to these guys to get them to talk about us.

This is like a little game, actually. We get to look at what he's not saying, which will tell us what he's hiding. For starters, any time he uses "we," meaning Nvidia, it's a throwaway line, because they contract with AEG to handle this for them. So when he says "we don't...", that's technically true, but it doesn't mean that AEG isn't doing it for them.

Now in the next section, he includes "and our agency," and that's interesting, because the only common term is "pay." So we can probably safely assume that neither AEG or Nvidia is paying these people a salary. However, it does mean that AEG can retain them and tell them what to say in the forums.

Why would people do that unless they were getting paid? Well, hold on--it's going to get much more interesting as we move along.

So here's the next relevant excerpt:
Although Mr. Perez emphatically states that they do not oversee these individuals, nVidia is listed as a client on AEG's web site, the company mentioned in The Consumerist's report. And Perez does acknowledge that AEG has been retained as a third party to direct these individuals. "It's no different than paying an agency to talk to you guys."

Hmm. So that confirms what I said about the difference between saying "we" and saying "us and our agency," because now he does confirm that AEG "directs" them. See, he's just starting and he's already in quicksand. And he also blurs the line about pay, because he says "it's no different than paying an ad agency." Oh, really?

Maybe the reason it's not different is because these people properly identify themselves on the forums they frequent. And Perez maintains that they do--for about five minutes, anyway. Here's the excerpt:
Perez states that the individuals posting on message boards do declare if they have a relevant connection with AEG or a similar organization. "They'll say. 'I talked to nVidia today, blah blah blah…' "

Again--hmm. So saying "I talked to Nvidia" is the same thing as identifying themsevles as, essentially, marketing agents? Not hardly. But in almost the same breath, he contradicts himself:
In response to The Consumerist's concern that this was not in fact the case, Perez responds, "It's for [the forum posters] to decide whether they want to disclose where they got the information from or not…

Oops. Gee, that seems kind of different from what you said in the last breath. And it just gets better:
We don't have people here that monitor forums. We hire an agency to help us do that. They then turn to some of the enthusiasts who love nVidia, and said, 'Hey, we have a relationship with nVidia, they don't want to post directly, but we can give you answers to people's questions so you can post those answers, and you can have a direct relationship with nVidia.'

So why exactly would Nvidia want the extra bureaucracy here? Let me get this straight--instead of having Nvidia employees post on forums to answer people's "questions" directly, which would (by the way) generate all kinds of positive regard for them in the community, they're instead hiring an agency to find people to collect questions from users that they give to the agency that the agency gives to Nvidia that Nvidia answers back to the agency and the agency gives to the people and the people answer the users.

Because, you see, it's simpler!

You know what this all sounds like? Shell companies that corporations set up to hide the origin of dubious financial transactions. Kind of like having "end users" not reveal that they've actually doing work for a marketing agency that was commissioned by Nvidia.

All right, let's keep moving. Next excerpt from Perez:
The bottom line is this: We work with a couple of guys that get our message out. And mostly it's solving problems. Bugs, fixes mentioned by other members of the community. We don't direct public opinion, we don't tell people what to say, be it positive or negative… they're left to do that on their own."

Now to me, a "couple of guys" means two. I bet that's not what he calls "a couple," though, but it's a nice way to not use a specific number. And saying "mostly" problems leaves the door wide open. And saying "we," once again, means that while Nvidia isn't telling them what to say, it doesn't mean AEG doesn't.

Here's the crowning touch, though:
Additionally, Perez says that even "retained" is an inaccurate description. He describes them as "A friend of…" who may receive a free product. "We toss them a board once in a while. But, we give everyone boards, right? We give a ton of boards to consumers who either have a bad experience, have old hardware that's blowing up on them, and they've contacted us, and we turn around and we'll tell them something… It's no different than, 'Hey, here's a free movie rental, thanks for being a loyal customer.' "

We "toss them a board once in a while?" But hey, no big deal, because they give EVERYONE boards. Hell, like me--I've got twenty in my freaking closet RIGHT NOW. I actually sent Nvidia this registered letter last week:
Dear Mr. Perez,
Please stop sending me free graphics cards. I know you send them to everyone, but I don't have any space left in my closet and my wife has run out of crafting uses for them--I can't take any more Nvidia wind chimes.

And it's no different than a free movie rental, except that the free rental costs three bucks and the free board could cost three hundred--or more. I mean, come on! How can he say this bullshit without just breaking out laughing?

Last excerpt:
We're not populating message boards with any propaganda, or any BS like that. I guarantee you that. We hired a third party to help us manage our online relationships.

Exactly. So "we're" not populating message boards with propaganda, but that doesn't mean the third party isn't.

So there you go. Derek Perez contradicts himself ten times in the same interview and IGN, amazingly, doesn't seem to notice. That was an entirely miserable performance from a PR guy.

Again, the backlash about this isn't going to come from the original revelation, but the cascade of half-truths after the revelation. If Nvidia had immediately come clean about this, it would have blown over in forty-eight hours. It's the cover-up that's going to bite them in the ass.

It's very simple: if someone has ties to Nvidia through AEG and they identify those ties in the forum they're posting to, no problem. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if Nvdia's "thrown them" free boards via AEG and they're conveniently forgetting to mention that relationship, it's complete bullshit.

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