Back when Xbox One was still not known by name, there were already rumors about the capabilities of the Kinect bundled with it that had people concerned. One of the issues people were most concerned about was Microsoft patenting a specific method the Kinect could use to target advertising at the people using the console based on visual cues. Microsoft representatives were very quick to play this capability down as a mere possibility rather than a definite plan, but the patent was awfully serious evidence it was not being seriously discussed.
In the time since, Xbox One has endured some horrible press over various issues, most notable its original, draconian DRM policies. Albert Penello, planning and marketing director at Microsoft, has decided to speak up about the continuing fears of the Kinect’s possible advertising uses.
Let’s take a look at his reassurances.
Penello points out first of all that NuAds, as the theoretical advertising is called, is would be nothing more than interactive advertising. He goes on to explain the advertising issues people have expressed concerns about, like Kinect being able to read and interpret facial expression, before saying clearly it is not something anyone at Microsoft is working on. He clarifies a moment later that he is not aware of anyone working on it, and goes on to insist if any such advertising ever was placed on Xbox One, it would of course be under the control of the individual user.
Advertising for advertising… Am I the only one horrified by the possibilities?
Okay, Microsoft… Let’s have a little talk about your PR.
First of all, when you are trying to reassure people, starting out with a buzzword proper noun that you try to define as vaguely as possible is a bad start. If someone has not already heard the term NuAds or did not already have a clear idea of what it meant, hearing it first by having Penello use it so candidly specifically to try and make it seem less negative shows that not only have the things they are concerned about being discussed in a corporate setting, they are actually being given catchy names. No one gives a catchy name to something they are not trying to sell, and even people who are not consciously aware of it can recognize when the sales mindset approaches simply because it is so ever-present in modern society.
Secondly, do not tell us in absolute terms and then immediately tell us those terms are subject to what you, yourself, have been told. We are all familiar with how corporate talk works. You yourself can speak in perfect assurance, but if the company just happens to be working on it and hasn’t told you, well at least you included the disclaimer so no one can be sued.
In fact, this point goes out to all companies out there who do this.
Stop. Doing. This.
Do you want to know why Microsoft is still having problems with these rumors? It is not just because people are paranoid or privacy-obsessed, it is because of statements like this. We have been taught time and again that we cannot trust when a corporate representative tells us something because time and again the company they represent has gone back on what they were saying or was already doing so even as they were talking.
If you want consumers to take your reassurances seriously, hold yourself legally liable for them. Tell us in no uncertain terms what we can and cannot expect. Actually reassure us in words that you cannot just back out of later if it turns out they just happened to be untrue. People do not care if you can cover your own ass, and it has a very negative side effect.
When you have to add disclaimers based on what your spokesman is aware of within the company, you undermine everything that spokesman is saying. In fact, those of us who have learned to recognize such double-speak often actually expect anything someone says with such disclaimers to later be proven false.
Finishing off by pointing out any such ad service would surely be in the consumer’s control just hammers home that assumption that we are being lied to. I would have been hard-pressed to format a reassurance that was honestly less reassuring, and with the past year’s worth of PR gaffes Microsoft has had, you would think they would be more careful to avoid such self-laid traps.