Either we are in an age where Marketing and PR teams have become less careful about how they control privileged information about their products, or we are entering a new marketing age where “controlled exposure” of products happens.
The idea of the “beta test” isn’t really what we are talking about, Beta tests seem slightly too controlled. What we are talking about here is the release of code, hacks, products into the open so that they can be used to create mass hysteria, crowdsourced videos, and healthy forum debates. First up is Apple and the iPhone OS4. The iPhone OS4 was discovered by Gizmodo (link here) in a bar in Redwood City. The story unfolded that it was left by a drunken employee in the bar and Apple were trying to get it back admitting they lost it, but to me it felt much more like a clever marketing trick to get positive press before the “real launch” of the iPhone 4 later this year. The discovery led to Gizmodo creating a full review of the product, the insides, the outsides, the design, the feel, all very positive. The reaction afterwards was instantaneous and impactful, something that perhaps they wouldn’t have delivered from a traditional ad campaign.
With the Apple case you have to question a few things, 1) why would you leave the phone with an irresponsible employee 2) why weren’t Apple more keen to get it back, send out a task force, police force, etc. It all seemed a little too casual for a brand that normally reserves its launches for the hands of Steve Jobs. Incidentally, wasn’t this also at a time when Steve Jobs’ health was really questionable…?
Second up, with an amazing two stories of leaking codes and easy hacks, was Microsoft. Microsoft are not the sort of company who would traditionally open themselves up in this way which is why it becomes more questionable. Even 90% of Microsoft’s software is on a complete lockdown, so how have their two latest products – Windows Phone 7 hacked in June 2010 and the Microsoft Kinect hacked from this October onwards – become so newsworthy.
It seems relatively simple to me, Microsoft made the hacks “available” in order to generate some free crowdsourced marketing. It seems clear to me that the Kinect has profited from being open to anyone with a creative ability to hack the code. Since these codes were made available, the Kinect has not only generated millions of impressions/views beyond the advertising campaign, it has also lead to an improvement in X-Box sales over the same period. The truth is, the hack makes the Kinect more fun, and Microsoft knew this.
In fact, I took a look at the total video views for the term “Kinect Hacks” and that has allowed me to estimate that the amount of AVE that Microsoft has generated from this hack is around the $5m mark.(Based on the level of views across YouTube and Vimeo, but not including the number of blogs that have additionally posted about this)
Leaks and hacks are surprising in these two cases because they are two businesses who seem to rigidly control the exposure of information within their business. However, both have proven that these tactics are effective in delivering additional reach beyond traditional PR or product launches. I really believe we will see more of these leaks and hacks over time, happening more frequently, and synchronized more heavily with new product launches.
These are my favourite Kinect Hacks: