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About a week ago, The Consumerist stumbled upon claims made by various gaming websites (specifically, Elite Bastards and Beyond3D) that graphics chip manufacturer Nvidia, in cooperation with the Arbuthnot Entertainment Group (AEG), had seeded various gaming and PC hardware enthusiast sites with pro-Nvidia shills. That is to say, that AEG would hire employees to create 'personas' in various gaming communities, slowly building up the trust of other members by frequent posting unrelated to Nvidia, to later cash in that trust with message board postings talking up the positive qualities of Nvidia's products.

The research done by these gaming websites and communities fingered a few likely suspects, but did not prove outright that AEG's work-quoted on their web site as "Message board monitoring and response" and "Strategic seeding viral assets to ensure they are spread far and wide"-included placing ringers in their communities.

Almost at the same time, we noticed this post on gaming webcomic Penny Arcade, where an anonymous tipster had written in part,
I interviewed for a guerilla marketing business in San Francisco that targeted web forums. I was told that if I accepted the job, I was to have at LEAST 50 identities on as many forums as I could muster (they wanted 100 eventually), with a goal of 5 posts an hour. The posts had to be well thought out, and the idea was that I was to establish multiple identities with a history on the forums, so that when the timing was right a well written but subtly placed marketing post could be finessed in. And regular visitors would recognize the post as coming from a long time poster.
Soon after, we sent an email to David Higham of Nvidia, asking in part, "I've noticed that you've worked with AEG before. What sort of services were AEG hired to perform for Nvidia? Did those services include "strategic seeding viral [of] viral assets," and if so, does that mean that Nvidia worked with AEG to hire community agents who discussed Nvidia's products without disclaiming they were an employee, contracted or otherwise, of Nvidia or AEG?"

Mr. Higham passed us on without response to Derek Perez, Nvidia's Public Relations Director, who is quoted on the AEG Testimonials Page saying, "AEG's online community outreach programs have been extraordinarily successful in improving public perception of our company and its products."

Mr. Perez, who had been forwarded The Consumerist's original email asked us, "What is this in reference to?"

We replied again, "This is in reference to discussions occurring on in certain online communities about possible "Manchurian Fans" being seeded into their forums and comments pages, assuming a long-term personality, and then placing pro-Nvidia statements after a trusted reputation has been established. The issue being, of course, that the 'Fans' are being paid to inject positive buzz about Nvidia's products into the community at large while not disclaiming their affiliation with Nvidia."

"Has Nvidia hired any companies, including AEG, to do this sort of undisclosed 'viral' marketing?"

"May be best to talk on the phone," was Mr. Perez's reply.

That was February 1st. We have yet to receive a phone call from Mr. Perez, despite trying to schedule one multiple times. We informed Mr. Perez on the 3rd that we would be running our stories with or without his comments. We feel at this point that the issue is being avoided by Nvidia.

So we ask Mr. Perez and Nvidia again, did Nvidia hire AEG or other companies to seed online communities with undisclosed marketers posing as fans? And if so, is this work still ongoing?

Update
: Be sure to catch Mr. Perez's blow-off response, as well as our… well, they're pretty much the same questions, since we didn't really get an answer.


Source: The Consumerist
 

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I wonder if that could be considered fraud in some way if proven. If it's not illegal, it's a good business move if you don't get caught. Once caught though, your reputation takes a hit.
 

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To be honest, does it really matter? If I am choosing a new graphics card, I go for the best I can buy for the money, and the best is what the benchmarks say, not what some bloke says on a forum. Of course, I would look at the general thoughts people have on the card, but I'd also look into it myself, after all, we are talking about money that shouldn't be thrown around...
I know it's the principle, but to be honest, we should be able to make our own decisions on these things...
 

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I don't know about Nvidia, But I'm fairly sure that AMD has multiple personas on this forum. Either that, or some of the Intel bashers have been brainwashed by the suspecting personas.
 

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Crap. We can't thrust anyone anymore. One day you are making rational comparisons between hardware and the next BAM you are a brainwhashed fanboy... I'm scared now.
 

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Originally Posted by Melcar

Crap. We can't thrust anyone anymore. One day you are making rational comparisons between hardware and the next BAM you are a brainwhashed fanboy... I'm scared now.

Dang dude, don't thrust anyone EVER! (lol) anyways I definitely think that companies should stop thinking so much about marketing their product (either in the form of something like this or even by spending millions of dollars on ads in general) and spend more of their time and energy improving their products, if a company is fully confident in their product, then they shouldn't need any sort of advertising at all, especially if they are a company like Intel/AMD/Nvidia/ATI or whatever that are already such established brands that have loyal fanbases because people literally sit and read all of their press releases and etc. about new product launches and word of mouth in the enthusiast/overclocker community is insanely powerful which is why NV was doing this I think but again, if they were confident in their hardware, they shouldn't need to do this because plenty of legit people would buy their product, bench it and tell everyone else how much it pwnz. Just my $3.50 and all......
 

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Originally Posted by Remonster

Dang dude, don't thrust anyone EVER! (lol) anyways I definitely think that companies should stop thinking so much about marketing their product (either in the form of something like this or even by spending millions of dollars on ads in general) and spend more of their time and energy improving their products, if a company is fully confident in their product, then they shouldn't need any sort of advertising at all, especially if they are a company like Intel/AMD/Nvidia/ATI or whatever that are already such established brands that have loyal fanbases because people literally sit and read all of their press releases and etc. about new product launches and word of mouth in the enthusiast/overclocker community is insanely powerful which is why NV was doing this I think but again, if they were confident in their hardware, they shouldn't need to do this because plenty of legit people would buy their product, bench it and tell everyone else how much it pwnz. Just my $3.50 and all......

Not really. Advertising alone almost always wins the battle. Why were people buying Pentiums when Athlons offered a better deal in performance and price? Because Intel took the time and effort (and money) to advertise. The reason A64 and X2's are doing so well is because they not only offered a big performance increase over the competition, but because AMD started to advertise more aggresively. Remember that most people are not that PC literate and they only go by what they see on a TV commercial or read on a magazine. It does not matter if a new company comes out with a CPU that eats Athlons and Pentiums for breakfast because if they do not advertise nobody will buy their product (except looser PC enthusiasts like ourselves
).
 

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Pay me! Pay me! I'll promote your products online! Pay me!
 
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