Samsung threatens to strand two bloggers in Germany, apologizes for misunderstanding

Samsung Unpacked in Berlin at IFA 2012After extending an invitation for two bloggers to attend IFA in Berlin on Samsung’s dime, the hardware company threatened to revoke their return flight if the bloggers wouldn’t cooperate with its demands. The Next Web was the first to break the disturbing story of corporate manipulation.

The two bloggers, both from India, were alerted by Samsung that they had won a spot on the Samsung Mob!ler team. A perk gained from joining the program, besides early access to new devices, was travel and accommodation to attend IFA in Berlin. In exchange, the company asked the bloggers to do various tasks and write about the new devices announced at IFA. From the very start, Clinton Jeff (one of the bloggers), says the pair made it very clear they were not interested in being brand ambassadors and only wished to act as independent reporters.

In the beginning Samsung was outwardly fine with this arrangement, but as the IFA trip drew closer things began to change. For instance, the bloggers were asked to submit their clothing measurements for an undisclosed reason. They complied. Samsung then requested they “record themselves dancing in front of landmarks” and suggested they bring gifts appropriate to exchange with other Mob!ler members. Again, the pair went along with it. But once they arrived in Berlin and checked into their hotel, it became clear Samsung had other plans for them.

There was a Samsung Mob!lers booth set up and waiting. They were given shirts to wear the next morning at orientation and asked to attend a fitting. The following morning, the bloggers were told they’d “have to be in uniform, in the Samsung booths, every day. Showing the products to members of the press.”

Naturally, since both bloggers had made it painfully obvious they were not interested in representing the company, they again told Samsung reps they wished to act as independent reporters. Jeff was told to get coffee and wait on a decision from Samsung. He heard back shortly after:

“We got a call from Samsung India saying ‘You can either be a part of this and wear the uniform, or you’ll have to get your own tickets back home and handle your hotel stay from the moment this call ends…

A few minutes later, we got a call from the Samsung India guy who said that our flights on the 6th have been cancelled, and that they’re bringing us back on the 1st instead. But this is only if, and only if, we agreed to wear atleast the samsung branded shirt at the unpacked event, and not blog about any of this incident.

None of this should leave Berlin. Or Reach India.”

Unable to pay for their own return flights, the bloggers were stuck. In the interest of getting home, they wore the shirts, attended the events, but would not demonstrate the products.

Samsung was not pleased, but they were given every opportunity to explain to the bloggers that they were to act as brand ambassadors and nothing else. Luckily, Nokia offered to pay for their hotel and flights, allowing them to stay in Berlin and cover IFA as originally planned.

Samsung has since released the following statement about the incident:

“Samsung Mob!lers is a voluntary community of active Samsung mobile device users, who are offered the opportunity to participate in our marketing events across the world. At these events, all activities they undertake are on a voluntary basis. No activities are forced upon them.

We regret there was a misunderstanding between the Samsung Mob!lers coordinators and the relevant blogger, as we understand he was not sufficiently briefed on the nature of Samsung Mob!lers’ activities at IFA 2012. We have been attempting to get in touch with him.

We respect the independence of bloggers to publish their own stories.”

But, of course, Samsung didn’t put the apology to Jeff and acceptance of blame into the public statement.  However, you can read it here, courtesy of The Next Web:

“I would like to reach out to you and deeply apologize to you for your experience in Berlin at IFA. We put you through undue hardship and we are trying to rectify the situation.”

What do you think? Did Samsung act accordingly when alerted to the incident or is it an unacceptable series of events?