Novelty Reigns at Allure Bays (er … Microsoft)

Microsoft Office 2010 logoMicrosoft SharePoint 2010 logoIn the drive to “engage” customers, some companies are going to pretty great lengths to try something new and novel.

Take Microsoft and its soon-to-be-released Microsoft Office® 2010 and SharePoint® 2010 versions. Burned by the negative customer reaction to some of its earlier introductions (Vista®, for example), the company is trying some new tactics this time around.

Will they succeed? You be the judge.

You can start by visiting www.allurebays.com. This is a “pretend” site put up by Microsoft’s direct marketing agency-of-record (Wunderman), and attempts to generate awareness for the new Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 versions without ever mentioning the products by name.

“Allure Bays Corporation” is a fictional company whose name is a riff on the Internet meme all your base are belong to us from an erroneous English translation in a Japanese video game that spread throughout the web in the early 2000s. The bogus site offers infomercial-type videos and other content. Special hidden clues are peppered throughout the site, with content that only alludes to the Office and SharePoint products and their feature/benefits.

What’s going on here? Jerry Hayek, a Microsoft marketing group manager, reported that the company wishes to reach an audience of developers that he characterizes as “jaded”: “It’s a fairly jaded audience. There are a lot of companies that want to talk to them,” he said.

In order to spark visitor engagement, a leaderboard on the “Allure Bays” web site allows registered users to compete for the honor of finding all of the 45 hidden clues on the site. So far, the site has attracted ~25,000 registered users.

“When we look at the developer audience, getting an engagement of 150,000 to 200,000 (spread across several videos) … is a win,” Hayek noted.

What’s the reaction of visitors? If the comments left by viewers of the “Allure Bays” video channel on YouTube are any gauge, it’s mixture of criticism and confusion. To wit:

 “This is one big, expensive, utterly failed attempt of Microsoft to go viral. Please thumbs-down this video.”

 “AYBABTU is a cornerstone of Internet culture. Microsoft appropriating it to hawk the newest version of their bloated Office Suite is loathsome. Anyone up-voting any of these videos should have their Internet license revoked.”

 “I don’t get it … is it supposed to be funny?! Or what the h*ll is going on here?”

“It could be the new TV show like Lost or Fringe or Fantasy Island 2?”

 “WTF.”

Sheri McLeish, an analyst with Forrester Research who covers Microsoft, reported that she found the “Allure Bays” site confusing. “I’m not sure what it’s supposed to do. But maybe there’s something I’m missing.”

In the end, whether or not this initiative will be declared a success depends on how the folks at Wunderman and Microsoft view the results in terms of before/after awareness, audience engagement, and positive product perception.

But the early indicators don’t look all that promising.