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MIX07 It could have been so different.

Thinkers and creatives from publishing and advertising – Coke, The Economist and others - met for a Microsoft MIX07 panel, to debate and generally conclude that technology is a great way for reaching consumers.

After two days of Microsoft extolling the joys of convergence and multimedia content that’s delivered through Windows PCs, mobile devices, websites and the Xbox community, it was to be the frosting on Microsoft's new media cake.

But no-one had handed Andrew Rashbass the script.

Rashbass, chief information officer at The Economist, exhibited some criminally heretical views in front of a web and content developer audience assembled at Microsoft's Las Vegas Mecca. Chiefly:

  • That the best way to reach consumers is through technology that’s “under the covers” not the kinds of “technologies that have been talked about here.” Oops.
  • Compelling content, not technology, will help brands attract consumers.
  • Great content is in short supply
  • Contrary to the Web 2.0 hive mindset, companies do try to retain control of brands.
  • Converging content and advertising cheats and can misinform consumers.

The panel was an object lesson for marketing departments everywhere: in "conversations" can't be controlled and shoot off in unwanted directions.

The "Is marketing dead?" panel spun of the rails almost as soon as it left the station. Robbie Bach, Microsoft's president for entertainment and devices, had seized the stage, speaking of “advergaming” with Xbox games produced in co-operation with Burger King featuring the junk food giant’s mascot in a series of cheesy scenarios and that sold 3.2m copies in six weeks. And there are the 60 advertisers placing banners in real time through Xbox Live versions of Major League Baseball.

"We are engaging people, we are getting them to be interactive, and getting them to be social," Bach proclaimed, before passing the baton to Gayle Troberman, panel chair and Microsoft general manager for global brand entertainment.

Over to you, Rashbass: "It's kind of funny to hear Robbie Bach giving a talk on advertising and monetization when he just lost $300m in the last quarter." Oh dear.

"It's difficult to engage consumers. Robbie can show a few examples but the examples he doesn't show are the thousands of examples that don't engage consumers. Technology doesn't engage consumers," Andrew told fellow panelists.

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