Where there’s smoke, there’s not always fire

Smoked By Windows Phone SoCal 560x294 Where theres smoke, theres not always fire

Microsoft’s “Smoked by Windows Phone” campaign has really taken off in recent months. The brainchild of Ben “The PC Guy” Rudolph, “Smoked by Windows Phone” started off as a challenge at CES, the results of which were published on YouTube and the Windows Phone Blog. It became so popular that, before long, Rudolph took it on a road trip to Microsoft Stores in Southern California. Soon after it exploded, turning into an online advertising campaign and, just this past weekend, expanding to nearly every Microsoft Store retail location. Of course, something so popular is bound to have a strong reaction, both positive and negative. But is the internet making it into a bigger deal than it actually is?

Early on, some people tried to claim that Microsoft was cheating, but they were proved wrong every time. And, having watched “Smoked by Windows Phone” in action at CES (I wasn’t allowed to participate because I already own a Windows Phone), I can say that it was run very fairly. Ben Rudolph has been very honest and upfront about his record, both the wins (88% at CES, 100% in Southern California) and the losses.

Now, with Microsoft Store retail associates taking over the challenge in lieu of Rudolph, who is based out of Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Redmond, the challenge is receiving more press than ever before. Whereas Microsoft previously awarded winners with a crisp $100 bill and sent losers away with a Windows Phone as a consolation prize for being forced to admit their defeat on camera, now winners will receive a $1,000 Ultrabook. Increasing the stakes has managed to fill Microsoft Stores with customers waiting for their chance to smoke Windows Phone or walk away with one themselves.

Of course, this also opened up the door for controversy when one Microsoft Store employee denied a customer a win on a technicality. Rudolph, however, continues to stand behind the challenge and quickly sent the gentleman an Ultrabook and a Windows Phone. But is the whole thing a rigged PR scheme? No, not really. Yes, Microsoft has the advantage, since it gets to select exactly which task to perform and has had ample time to prepare beforehand. Yes, Microsoft ultimately determines whether or not to award the winner his or her prize. But the Redmond software giant has been careful to pick common use cases like uploading a photo or posting to a social network, rather than an obscure or platform-specific challenge. And while mistakes are bound to happen occasionally, Microsoft has always set things right.

Interestingly, there are many reasons why one might want to take the challenge. Is it to win the $1,000 Ultrabook? To walk away with a Windows Phone? To prove your device’s superiority? In the end, it doesn’t really matter, since the challenger walks away with a valuable prize regardless of the competition’s outcome. Microsoft wins too, thanks to the massive amounts of press coverage and the multitude of free Windows Phones that are now in the hands of customers who have, more than likely, been convinced that the platform truly is better.

One of the most unintentionally hilarious “exclusives” I’ve read recently is that Microsoft knew it wouldn’t win every “Smoked by Windows Phone” challenge. Of course Microsoft knew; the company isn’t stupid. It is, however, confident enough about Windows Phone’s strengths–and knowledgeable enough about its weakness–to choose a lineup of challenges that best suits the company. And with an 88% win ratio at CES–and a perfect record in Southern California–Microsoft knew it could afford to lose a few challenges.

“Smoked by Windows Phone” is a brilliant marketing move on Microsoft’s part. It manages to show off the strengths of Windows Phone–speed, usability, and social–while simultaneously attracting a lot of press coverage and seeding the market with Windows Phones. Unfortunately, some people are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Of course “Smoked by Windows Phone” is going to slightly favor Windows Phone–it is a marketing campaign after all–but that doesn’t mean the company is cheating. If you live near a Microsoft Store, however, why not stop by and try it for yourself? You just might walk away with a Windows Phone.

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