Monday, January 14, 2008

How a viral marketing campaign went vitriolic – the Mozilla marketing mess

Mozilla normally markets its open-source browser using its Spread Firefox site and a host of fans to drum up new users.
In an effort to get a chuck of Microsoft’s market, it came up with an innovative online campaign that sadly backfired.
The “Fight Against Boredom” featured a YouTube movie which echoes “We are the World”.
Only in this case, the singers poured out statistics, comparing Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer users with Firefox users.
It included “fun facts” such as:
15% more likely to have watched cartoons on TV within the last seven days” and “21% less likely to fish”.

However, it also included:
23% less likely to have cancer” ; “25% less likely to have breast cancer” and “20% less likely to live with others suffering from cancer.”
These “statistics” also included that Firefox users were less likely to have high cholesterol or heart disease.

The TechCrunch blog was the first one to report on and object to the marketing program.
The readers’ comments make fascinating reading.
To give an example, Zachary wrote: "As a Firefox user who has cancer, I'm less than amused."

Paul Kim, Mozilla's vice president of marketing, tried to do some damage control.
He wrote on his blog:
This is Paul Kim, VP of marketing for Mozilla.
I want to apologize to anyone who was upset or offended by some of the stats on the not yet final website for this campaign.
The list Techcrunch referenced was posted without a final review by Mozilla and wasn’t intended to be published as is.
We’re working right now to correct this on the site, which goes live in a final form later today.”

The apology doesn’t make sense. This kind of campaign should never have been conceived, not even as a rough concept.
I agree with blogger Tom Page, who points out that:
"Saying that it was not meant to be 'publicly available' makes it seem as if these comments are only acceptable as a private joke at Mozilla. Caesar's wife must be above suspicion, and if something like this came from Microsoft you'd go absolutely crazy."

Mozilla yanked the campaign.
What puzzles me most is the part that their PR Company played in this.
AKQA profiles itself as “ideas-lead agency” that holds the “Agency of the Year” title on “both sides of the Atlantic at the same time”.
You would expect more (cultural) sensitivity from an agency like this.
("Al AKQA", that also features a stuffed monkey on its website, claims $ 350M. in online media billing and 450 staffers).

Considering the gap between Firefox and its rival (according to the company Net Application, Inc. Firefox accounted for 16.8% of all browsers that visited the 40,000 sites the company monitors for its customers), this latest expedition in creative marketing will not help.

The lesson to be learned: marketing professionals need to be diligent in all their materials, even if it's only a rough concept.

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