Did Nvidia hire an army of message-board sock-puppets?

Nvidia stands accused of hiring online actors to create dozens of personae in online forums, where they won gamers' trust by talking about subjects unrelated to Nvidia's products, and then splurged in an orgy of sock-puppet boosterism of Nvidia's stuff.

Consumerist has notes on its ongoing investigation into the "Manchurian Fans" scandal. A former employee of AEG, a firm that specializes in tricking people into thinking that its employees are regular users who talk up products because they plain like them, has been hired by Nvidia, but he won't answer Consumerist's questions. Nvidia's PR person won't return their calls either.

It looks pretty grim for Nvidia: I hope that if they have something to say in their defense that they say it soon, because it really looks like they're just waiting for this to blow over.

I interviewed for a guerilla marketing business in San Francisco that targeted web forums.

I was told that if I accepted the job, I was to have at LEAST 50 identities on as many forums as I could muster (they wanted 100 eventually), with a goal of 5 posts an hour. The posts had to be well thought out, and the idea was that I was to establish multiple identities with a history on the forums, so that when the timing was right a well written but subtly placed marketing post could be finessed in. And regular visitors would recognize the post as coming from a long time poster.

Link

Update: Ryan sez, "The Penny Arcade post linked to in that article was a follow-up to their earlier post where they were basically accusing Electronic Arts of doing the exact same thing to promote some of their crappier games."

Update 2: Mike sez, "Back when I was desperate to get out of retail, I once interviewed for a 'web content' job. During the interview, I learned it wasn't so much web content as going into internet chat rooms and guerilla marketing this guy's audio speaker company. As a journalist (and, of course, a gamer), I thought that was pretty crazy, and told him so. 'Don't you think people will rebel against you invading their, albeit virtual, space just to sell your product?' I asked. His defense was something I will never forget. With a straight face, he pointed out that it wasn't that hard a sell: 'Hell, I heard about guys picking up little twelve year old girls on chat rooms. If they can get little girls to meet them in real life just from a chat room, you better believe we'll be able to sell speakers.' It was the first time that, by the end of the job interview, I no longer wanted the job."

Update 3:Gawker's Joel sez, "To my knowledge, the anonymous poster on Penny-Arcade isn't necessarily an AEG or Nvidia employee. We're just trying to connect the dots. The Nvidia claims come from the enthusiast websites we linked. While the Penny-Arcade poster is talking about the same sort of hanky-panky, we do not yet (and may never) know who was trying to hire him."

Update 4 Two followups to this have appeared on Consumerist.

Update 5 JCA sez,

Viral marketing via message forums has been around for a while now. In fact, the practice has a name: Ashleeturfing

Roughly a year ago, I got tired of our forums being endlessly spammed by "shills" posing as fans working on behalf of very large media companies, including the likes of MTV, Court TV, and The Discovery Channel. I decided post about it on MetaFilter.

The final straw came via an infamous viral spam post about Ashlee Simpson just after her SNL lip-sync debacle and Orange Bowl appearance -- it was so ridiculous I had to call attention to it:

"I just read about Ashlee in us weekly. Those guys at the football game were total jerks." -- mandyc19

MTV (or the marketing company working on their behalf) was trying to draw attention to the upcoming season premiere of Ashlee Simpson's MTV reality show. I Googled the text of the post from "mandyc19" to find the exact same message had been posted on countless message forums. The person even used the same "mandyc19" username on each forum.