Update, 5/21: I talked to Microsoft's Mark Kroese this afternoon about this program, and he reassured me that Microsoft understands the potential for angering customers by delivering unsolicited ads, especially to a portable device where none have appeared before. He promised that any such advertising would be opt-in--the scenario he demonstrated yesterday would require users to choose to become friends with the musician, then choose again to have that musician's Doritos-sponsored playlist synced to their device. He also pointed out that only the musician's social card would contain the Doritos branding--when you played those songs within your own library, they'd be brand-free. Finally, he said that Microsoft understands the importance of appropriate branding, and would look for advertisers who music listeners would actively want to associate themselves with--I thought of Gibson or Fender, for example. So I'm not as uncomfortable with the concept as I was. And judging from the comments below, some of you are happy to accept some limited advertising in exchange for free music.
Original post starts here:
For the last several years, I've attended Microsoft's conference for advertisers--this year, it's called Advance '08--and it's always a bit like walking through a portal to an alternate universe.
Maybe it's because I grew up watching TV, but I've always looked at advertising like homework or lima beans--you have to accept it to get the stuff you really want. But whenever I attend this conference, I'm struck by how advertisers are big on the idea that end-users will not only accept, but gleefully embrace advertising if it's relevant, entertaining, and sufficiently subtle. There's certainly evidence to support this, like all those TV commercials posted on YouTube.
Anyway, part of Microsoft's pitch to advertisers is that because the company has so many different products and services for consumers--MSN, Windows Live, Live Search, Xbox, Xbox Live, the Mediaroom IPTV system, Windows Mobile, and so on--it can help advertisers reach end-users in more places with commercial messages they'll actually embrace rather than ignore.
On stage Tuesday, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, and one of his reports, Mark Kroese, demonstrated how a single advertising campaign could cross several different types of screens, including PC, TV, mobile phone and--gasp--Zune.
The demonstration involved a music festival sponsored by Doritos. A musician participating in that festival might create a Zune Social profile containing a small advertisement for Doritos. Users could then become "friends" with this musician, allowing them to see his playlist and perhaps even download free songs on that list (paid for by Doritos). They'd also see a little Doritos logo embedded in the musician's profile, which would appear not only in the Zune software, but also on the actual Zune device whenever they visited that profile.
Microsoft also demonstrated users e-mailing a link to this musician's profile to other friends, who'd then retrieve it via Hotmail or their mobile phone, and perhaps play a Doritos-sponsored Asteroids-type game linked from within the e-mail. Pretty whizzy.
This was just a demonstration. It's not a real offering today, although the Seattle P-I's Todd Bishop is reporting it will soon be launched as a pilot program. Today, Microsoft does show advertisements in some Xbox games (provided by technology gained in their 2006 acquisition of Massive), but only where it makes sense--billboards on a race track, for example, which mimic real life. But mixed in with my music? Advertising is one of the reasons I seldom listen to the radio anymore. To me, it'd be a shame if advertising appeared on my MP3 player as well.
I'm curious about what you think. Am I being needlessly grumpy? Would you accept commercial messages on your Zune (or iPod) in exchange for free content? Or is your personal music collection somehow sacred?