NEW YORK Microsoft has kicked off a monthlong campaign to promote its e-mail and instant messaging products through a blend of social activism and social media.
As a continuation of its 18-month-old "I'm Initiative" that gives money to charities of users' choice for employing Microsoft's Live instant messenger and Hotmail e-mail, the company has created a blog with a series of Web videos centered around a fictitious spokesman who aims to stay awake for 30 days in an attempt to make as much money as possible for good causes.
Microsoft is incorporating social media into the effort by reaching out beyond its own products to those offered by competitors. The site includes photos posted to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Yahoo!-owned flickr. The site uses social bookmarking applications like StumbleUpon, del.icio.us and MySpace.
"To my knowledge, it hasn't been done within Microsoft," said Tara Kriese, a senior product marketing manager at Microsoft.
The "I'm Talkathon" (imtalkathon.com) features Parker Whittle, a man in his 20s, born into a well-to-do family and now having doubts about whether he's done enough to help others. So he's holding a "talkathon" to see how many people he can get to send messages via Windows Live Hotmail and Messenger over 30 days to raise money. Microsoft agency McCann Erickson created the character based on feedback from those who have participated in the program.
Despite appearances, Whittle will not blog live or try to set the world record for skipping sleep. (It's a mere 175 hours, set by a Boise, Idaho, disc jockey.)
McCann Worldgroup shot 15 videos to air over the month, including video blog entries, interviews with musicians and comedy sketches. The site carries disclaimers that it is part of a Microsoft promotion, a step taken to avoid controversies over "flogs" done by Wal-Mart and others. In addition to an explanation of I'm on the sidebar, the site carries a large disclaimer that includes: "The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness of the I'm Initiative and the worthy causes it helps. If we rubbed you the wrong way in the process, that wasn't our intention, so 'sorry, our bad.'"
Microsoft is backing up the campaign with nearly $5 million in online media placements on Facebook, FM.com, Pandora and even celebrity gossip site PerezHilton.com.
I'm was begun 18 months ago by Microsoft to drive use of its Live Messenger service by tying it to 10 charitable causes. The program raised $1 million in its first year and was expanded to include Hotmail.
"The last thing we want to do is jeopardize that," said Devin Holmes, an account director on the Microsoft account at McCann. "It's very important we not come across as fake."