Microsoft’s Massive Interactive Ad Venture (with a editorial reminder for the Washington Post)

Bill and Melinda Gates receive just praise for their eponymous charitable foundation. But like so many other philanthropists, the money comes via disreputable practices. Little is ever mentioned when discussing the Gates Foundation that its resources were built on a coldly executed monopolistic business strategy. The European Commission is still trying to undo the impact of Microsoft’s monopoly. Like many other robber barons turned philanthropist, perhaps Mr. Gates has made a later-in-one’s life conversion. He is now widely viewed—by the press and others—as a saint, not a sinner.

But Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Massive—the leading provider of online advertising for video games—illustrates his company’s continued lack of a moral vision. Massive sells to a wide array of advertisers and marketers the eyeballs—and really the subconscious minds—of teens and other gamers. Video games become populated with all kinds of commercial messages to help push the marketing goals of “Entertainment, Automotive, Telecom, Packaged Goods, Technology and Retail,” explains Massive. These ads are placed before users in “real-time” and can be readily updated and revised to suit an advertisers marketing strategy. You can be sure users are tracked and profiled.

Here’s what Massive also tells advertisers: “Massive’s patent-pending ad serving technology and unique ad units guarantee that advertisers get precise, measurable exposure in their campaign. The dynamic nature of the Massive Network gives advertisers the opportunity to target gamers with different messages based upon geography and time of day. The advertising creative and campaign can be highly customized and changed quickly to meet evolving market conditions and brand priorities. Ad messages are customized to contextually fit each game environment and then served to locations within the game that are pre-selected by Massive and the game’s creative developers.”

“Types of ad units include (but are not limited to):

* Billboards and Posters
* Vehicles
* Pizza Boxes
* Soda Cans
* Screensavers
* TV Screens”

Microsoft is currently engaged in a desperate effort to catch up to Yahoo! and Google in the interactive advertising game. Massive is seen as a prime way to extend the software giant’s interactive ad clout. But, by facilitating the ability of marketers to encourage young people and others to consume more beer, pizza, and fattening soft drinks, Microsoft is making an unhealthy and inappropriate contribution to our culture. It won’t do the public any good if—say twenty years from now—Bill and Melinda Gates begin suddenly spending foundation money to combat obesity-related illnesses. They would have already helped encouraged millions of game users to identify with such products.

This week’s announcement that Microsoft’s Massive will be distributing Electronic Arts (EA) games for its Xbox, including “first person shooter” Battlefield 2142, is a good illustration why folks working for Gates should hide their heads in shame. Here’s what an EA executive said about the deal: “Consumers are increasingly engaged in deep, virtual worlds and advertisers need adapted ways to reach these audiences.”

Oy Vey!

And now for the Washington Post. The news article [9/1/06] reporting on the EA deal was very polite—and didn’t explore much the concerns over Microsoft’s use of interactive ads for games. Perhaps that’s because folks know that Melinda Gates is on the board of the Washington Post Company. Post Co. reporters and editors always need to disclose their corporate connection to Microsoft and the Gates family.

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