RealNetworks' "Freedom of Choice" campaign highlighting its recently announced and controversial Harmony technology hit a roadblock when pro-Apple users deluged the petition linked from its PR-focused campaign weblog.
RealNetworks has created the weblog-based community at www.freedomofmusicchoice.org, which offers users the ability to ask questions of CEO and founder Rob Glaser.
This latest effort steps up the public battle between Apple and Real over digital rights management (DRM) issues concerning Apple's iPod and iTunes store. Click here.
Most music purchased legally online is encoded to deter piracy. Apple uses such a software in the iPod to keep it from working with any other kinds of copy-protected formats. Real's Harmony circumvents this barrier by altering music to Apple's format.
Real hopes to use the blog to further position itself as a consumer advocate. Though it's gotten kudos from a consumer rights group, Public Knowledge, it appears that the initial response from bloggers is its too corporate.
The company linked to an online petition, entitled "Hey Apple, Don't Break My iPod!" where Real fans could endorse the company's campaign. Instead, as reported by MacDailyNews, pro-Apple fans bombarded the petition with anti-Real messages and the petition was taken down. This original petition is still linked from MacDailyNews and the Micro Persuasion weblog. The petition that replaced the original one linked from Real?s weblog did not allow comments.
Matt Graves, senior PR manager for music at Real, said that the company values the public's opinion, but the point of the petition was not a referendum on how people felt about the company.
"The comments people were posting weren?t germane to the conversation," he said, adding that he was surprised by the venom and rancor from some people and wondered why some individuals posted the same message multiple times.
He said the company would continue to monitor the commentary surrounding its product and the DRM issue.
The online community is a savvy one. Record label Warner Music recently got lambasted by editors of mp3 blogs who felt it was anonymously posting defenses of itself in their comments section. The imbroglio made it into the pages of the New York Times. Graves said that Real does not run that risk.
"We're very clear that this is a site from Real Networks," said Matt Graves, senior PR manager for music at Real.
Apple referred PRWeek to its initial response to the Harmony software: "We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod, and we are investigating the implications of their actions under the DMCA and other laws."
Additionally, Real is halving the costs of its entire catalog and rolling out an extensive advertising campaign, which features an iPod-looking device being unlocked.
When the company introduced Harmony, Real started mulling a number of ways of customer outreach and paid attention to how people were posting commentary about the situation online, Graves said. "We recognized [this was] how we could reach out to consumer."
Real's AOR, SutherlandGold, has posted some of the news links and helped with "bread and butter media relations," such as working on radio promotions with drive-time DJs, Graves said.
Art Brodsky, Public Knowledge's director of communications, said Real contacted the group about its new campaign. Public Knowledge released a statement form its president and co-founder, applauding the move.
"We were flattered to do it," Brodsky said, adding that they weren't paid for an endorsement and that it fit well within the group's ideology. "We're all for choice and we hope the more legal options there are, the less enticements for illegal use [of online music]."
Brodsky said that backing from advocacy groups should have some effect on what he considers a legitimate PR campaign.
"They're trying to do it with a splash because lord knows they're in a tough business," Brodsky said.
"It's brilliant in that it's a power-to-the-people message," said Steve Rubel, VP of client services at CooperKatz and writer of the Micro Persuasion blog.
But he cautions, "As neat an idea as it is, savvy people are going to say, 'you're doing this to make money.'"
Indeed, more than a handful of bloggers commenting on the new site noted that it seemed to lack transparency.
The weblog does not yet offer posting of unmonitored comments, but Graves said, "We're still looking at all opportunities."
Graves added: "We want to offer a balance for posting comments, but we don't want a fringe minority spewing hate."
After a cursory look to the site, Rubel noticed that the news links were posted by "admin."
"It's clear that Real's behind the site," Rubel said. "If I post a comment on this site, I feel like I'm talking with a website."
But he still feels the site has potential.
"I think it's a smart effort, and I'm hoping that it will get smarter," Rubel says, pointing to the upcoming Q&As with Glaser and rock band Devo. "It's Howard Dean to music."