Microsoft ran a very successful marketing challenge at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where it demonstrated that most common actions could be done quicker using a Windows Phone. This worked so well that Microsoft has turned it into a global campaign. However, it has also resulted in some bad publicity after a winner was (temporarily) refused his prize, a $1,000 PC.
The CES 2012 version of Smoked by Windows Phone could be considered daring because many attendees are geeks and extremely familiar with their smartphones. Against that, they had to take on another expert, Microsoft evangelist Ben Rudolph, who is perhaps better known by his Twitter handle @BenThePCGuy
The Windows Phone Blog noted that "What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas", and reported Windows Phone challenges in Barcelona (where the prize was 100 Euros), Hong Kong and Indonesia. As reported by ZD Net, Nokia India also ran its own version, the "Blown Away by Lumia" challenge.
In these challenges, the competitors are probably less expert than you'd find at CES, but the Microsoft representatives probably are as well. Either way, Microsoft would have expected to lose a proportion of the contests: Rudolph won 88 percent, and the Jakarta score (640 wins, 50 losses) was even better: 93 percent. But Microsoft evidently tried to avoid losing too many US contests, where the prize was -- perhaps foolishly -- inflated from $100 in cash to a $1,000 PC. This provides losers with a much bigger incentive to complain, and Android user Sahas Katta made the front page of Reddit and got a massive amount of publicity when he blogged: I Won The Windows Phone Challenge, But Lost "Just Because".
Katta admits it was pure luck. There are a number of different challenges, and he says he was asked to show the weather in two different cities. He says: "I felt like I struck gold since I knew I already had two weather widgets on my home screen: one for my current location (San Jose, CA) and another for Berkeley, CA." Even better, he had "disabled the lock screen entirely" on his Samsung Galaxy Nexus, so he didn't even need to touch the screen to win.
The Microsoft Store declined to hand over the prize, which sounds foolish, but perhaps they were confused. I suspect that the correct challenge was to show the weather in two cities, one of which was Las Vegas. Microsoft would then have Las Vegas and another city pre-installed on live tiles and almost guarantee an easy win.
Fair? Not really, but this is a marketing campaign not a scientific survey. One of the marketing points is to show that live tiles provide instant information, without users having to load an app.
Microsoft moved quickly to rectify its store's mistake, and Ben Rudolf got in touch. As @sahaskatta posted later:
I exchanged emails with Ben regarding the matter earlier today and learned that a laptop and phone were aside for me at the Santa Clara Microsoft Store. I dropped by this evening and after spending a few minutes chatting with two rather extremely friendly store managers, I walked out with a $1,049 Hunger Games Special Edition HP Folio 13 and a $899 Nokia Lumia 800 Bundle. I recently just purchased a new HP Envy 15 and I am rather happy with my smart phone, so I decided to put both of these up for auction on eBay. I will ship the highest bidder of each listing the respective device and donate 100% of the proceeds to a charity of with the help of Reddit’s choosing.
According to The Verge, Microsoft was aware of the threat from Android widgets, and encouraged staff to pick a challenge they were more likely to win. Another example was the "Update Your Status across Multiple Social Networks" challenge, where some users would have phones set up to post to Facebook and Twitter at the same time. For the "Pocket to Picture to Post" challenge, Microsoft warned staff:
"You should also steer clear of this challenge against an HTC Status (ie the Facebook Phone) as it also has a built in pocket-to-picture-to-post feature and a camera that switches on even faster than Windows Phone."
There's no doubt that Windows Phone does make it simpler and quicker to perform many common tasks than the average smartphone in its out-of-the-box state. But once people have configured their smartphones to meet their needs, it's a different matter, and it doesn't seem fair to ask shop assistants to cope with the variations. They're not all Ben Rudolfs.
The problem now is that there must be plenty of geeks who can figure out ways to beat the system, and a free $1,000 PC is a good incentive to try. Microsoft's losses could climb dramatically.
Smoked by Windows Phone has generated a massive amount of publicity, but Microsoft might now be wise either to find a few more Ben Rudolfs or to quit while it's ahead. It should certainly remind staff that when they lose, they must do it gracefully.
Ben Rudolf at CES 2012 running the Windows Phone $100 Challenge https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQZww_C6Zgg