I think most people agree that most consumers have somewhat ambiguous feelings toward Microsoft. Even Bill Gates will admit, there’s a kind of love/hate relationship between the company he built and the people that buy their products. Part of the issue is that even small misteps turn into huge media coverage, because of the sheer size and pervasiveness of the company. Personally I think the other big reason is because most people hate rich people… 😉
Up till now, I have not often seen the tech giant take any action on changing public opinion toward it’s brand. Some would say this is out of sheer arrogance, though I wonder if it’s because the splintered nature of their business organization forces an individualistic view of each business unit, instead of viewing themselves as a collective whole. I noticed this at first when Window Live debutted, in the way which the branding for Live was so intrinsically different from the rest of Microsoft, that it felt like a completely different company. Since then, that same style has permiated through many of the other products, even as the Live branding draws fire and services start to get shuttered.
Enter ‘i’m’ – an albeit thinly veiled attempt to promote its e-mail and instant messaging products through a blend of social activism and social media, ‘i’m’ proposes to donate cash for every message that traverses it’s messaging service platforms. Although this is obviously a means to putting their messaging/ad delivery platform into the hands of more users, the social activism spin is a bit telling. It seems the many armed octopus that is Microsoft wishes to put on a friendlier face.
What I find most interesting about this idea, is that, with the addition of hotmail to the list of ways you can help donate, it bears a striking resemblence to this Internet Urban Legend [snopes.com]. In the email legend, you could get cash from Bill Gates himself for forwarding an email to everyone you know. The email plays directly to the dual problems of pervasiveness (in this case the Big Brother version), and money, which I think form the crux of their negative public image. Now it seems Microsoft is having a quiet joke at this meme’s expense, since, technically, it’s very much the same thing, only the money is going to the less fortunate instead of, well, you.
The program is not yet available in Canada, and thus I can only wait on baited breath for the opportunity to “stick it to the man” in the name of charity. Does it make me feel differently about Microsoft? I’m probably not the right person to ask, as I have never really had a problem with them – but the idea is appealing enough to make me play along.