Lenovo, Public Relations and Superfish

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthIt has been a mere 5 – 6 weeks since public announcements appeared about the security threat represented by preloaded adware from Superfish on Lenovo personal computers first magnetized public attention. But in this short interval the Lenovo brand has taken a big hit, especially around the question of whether or not public announcements from them can be be trusted — not the kind of stuff a public relations team will likely want to handle. CMSWire, for example, published an article on this topic, which is titled Can Lenovo Regain Consumer Trust After Secretly Installing Adware?.

I see little point in raking through the stacks of opinions on this topic. But I would like to present three points I hope early stage ISVs will carefully consider should they find themselves in the kind of quagmire besetting Lenovo at the moment:

  1. Please do not choose the denial route
  2. As well, please take responsibility for any failures to carefully evaluate products before deciding to add them to a core offering
  3. Finally, please defend the important positions you have taken to make a best effort to establish a profitable manner of doing business

The public perception appears to be Lenovo failed to follow these three points, starting with a denial of responsibility. One may argue the denial statement was subtly presented to the public. After all, the earliest headlines were all about the security risk represented by the Superfish adware product. The public appeared to believe Lenovo’s hardware had been hacked. Perhaps this perception was nurtured by the surrounding publicity climate, which was rather full of news about reports from Kaspersky Lab about spyware baked into the hard disks and even CPUs powering desktop and laptop computers manufactured in the US.

In my opinion Lenovo’s PR team should not have allowed the public discussion about the presence of Superfish adware on Lenovo computers to take this “sidetrack”. The inclusion of Superfish was really not a surprise at all, but a method Lenovo chose to exploit in an attempt to squeeze more revenue from the sale of its computers. There is nothing wrong, on paper, about making this kind of effort. Most any business in the type of commodity market Lenovo finds itself as it competes as a PC manufacturer would look for some opportunity to lower its costs to produce product by selling marketing opportunities to third parties.

If readers are hard pressed to accept this point, I would point them to an example from another commodity market — airplane travel and one of the main contenders in the market — Delta Airlines. The Delta branded American Express card is out there for a big reason perhaps lost on the consumer, but certainly one rarely lost on product marketers — to lower production costs. Whenever a customer buys a ticket on a Delta flight with a Delta AMEX the cost of the sale has been lowered by upwards to 4% simply by removing a third party clearing fee.

In my opinion there was nothing, on paper, wrong with Lenovo stuffing its PCs with an adware product. They just did not do a successful job of selecting the right partner (because Superfish product comes with big security concerns), which may result in a very big problem for Lenovo, should someone experience a hack attributable to Superfish. They also appear not to have done a very good job of plainly educating the consumer about the presence of adware on their computers. Finally, they were unable to provide their customers with an easy to follow method of completely removing adware from their purchases, should they wish to go this route.

The whole method of handling this problem has been a failure of public relations, sorry to say.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

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