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Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve

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[Yon standard pack shot. Indeed.]

I mentioned previously that I would be announcing my “Next Big Project” sometime today, the 17th of September.The Financial Times beat me to it.. “Social Object”, Baby:

Microsoft launches a tipple for techiesTonight, a select group will gather in a bar in London’s Soho to quaff a crisp, South African white wine bottled in their honour.

The hand-picked guests toasting the new vintage are not, however, wine connoisseurs but techies. The gathering marks the launch of the Blue Monster Reserve label, created by winery Stormhoek for Microsoft and its employees.

Own-label wine and personalised bottles have become increasingly popular in the corporate world, particularly among investment banks, as gifts to clients and offered to guests of corporate events. The companies hope the corporate vintages will add an air of class and sophistication to their image.

But unlike customised wine bottles given by banks and law firms to clients, this label did not originate in Microsoft’s corporate communications headquarters.

Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.

Mr MacLeod met these “Microsofties” through his day job. “We sponsored a series of ‘geek dinners’ for bloggers and techies in the US and the UK,” he said. “I met a lot of people from Microsoft through these dinners, and they all said the same thing: we want to change the world.”

That notion of a kinder, gentler Microsoft is at odds with its cut-throat corporate image. Critics have accused the software giant of abusing its dominant position and of stifling innovation in the industry. In 2003, the European Commission found Microsoft guilty of uncompetitive practices and levied a record €497m ($689m, £342m) fine. The result of its appeal against that decision is due on Monday.

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The cartoon of a sharp-toothed blue creature and its tagline, “Microsoft – change the world or go home”, has now been adopted by some Microsoft employees and fans as a symbol of the company’s innovation.“People see Microsoft as a big, bad corporate monster,” Mr MacLeod said. “Yet all the Microsofties I’ve spoken to say they just want to make great products and do good works. It was obvious that Microsoft had to get better at telling their story.”

“Wine is a social object, and so is the Blue Monster: they both inspire conversation,” he said. “And we thought the cartoon would look really cool on a bottle.”

Steve Clayton, chief technology officer at one of Microsoft’s UK affiliates and a nine-year veteran of the company, said Blue Monster reminded people that Microsoft “has a sense of fun and humour”.

Mr Clayton has been at the forefront of the Blue Monster movement: he uses the image on his business card and is the administrator of a “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group.

“[Microsoft’s HQ] has been very supportive of us using the Microsoft name alongside the Blue Monster image,” Mr MacLeod said. It makes sense; they’ve been around for about 30 years and are trying to reinvent themselves to embrace a new generation.”

Blue Monster-branded bottles will be available only to Microsoft and its affiliates. “We have no intention of selling the product outside Microsoft,” said Jason Korman, Stormhoek’s chief executive. “The wine itself only went live last week, and already we’ve had massive interest from different parts of the company.”

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[A bottle of Blue Monster Reserve sitting on my desk. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

Mr Clayton readily admits the Blue Monster movement, despite his involvement, is outside any influence from Microsoft: “[The cartoon] has encouraged a whole new series of conversations by people who are passionate about Microsoft, both internally and externally. Blue Monster is a community which has developed its own distinct identity.”For Mr MacLeod, the Blue Monster represents a revolution of sorts. “We started an underground movement within Microsoft, and we knew one day the guys in suits would finally take notice. That moment has finally arrived.”

If so, it will be marked in true internet-era style: not with an act of anarchy but a clink of glasses.

[Blue Monster backstory here.] [Blue Monster blog archive here.]The wine is not a commercially available product, just a wee “social object” for geek dinners and people inside the Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and I are still working on the final details of how we’re going to get the wine to people who want it, but for now, we’re just limiting its availability to [1] people who belong to the “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group, and [2] geek dinners we’re attending and/or sponsoring.

Personally, I like this idea because it directly connects to a lot of different things I’m interested in. “Social Objects”, Microsoft, cartoons, Stormhoek, Marketing 2.0, corporate-reinvention, geek dinners etc etc.

Hopefully, other people will like it, too. Watch this space etc.

A special thanks to all the groovy cats inside Microsoft who lent their support to this project. Rock on.

[Originally posted on my personal blog, GapingVoid]

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