A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about Kromtech Alliance Corp. and the tarnished reputation of its flagship product, MacKeeper, a utility software suite for the Mac. The MacKeeper saga appears to be a somewhat convoluted one, and as I previously noted, there’s more to the story than what I was able to get into that post. In this episode of its telling, I want to focus on Kromtech’s claim that MacKeeper’s reputation problems stem largely from a coordinated negative publicity campaign launched by one of its competitors.
According to Jeremiah Fowler, a Kromtech spokesperson, that competitor is MacPaw, whose competing product is CleanMyMac. To hear Fowler tell it, MacPaw was relentless in its attack on MacKeeper.
“These guys really went above and beyond,” he said. “They hired SEO companies to comment-spam; they did paid articles.” And, he said, they took advantage of the Apple discussions forum.
“Here’s a top-level forum—this is discussions.apple.com—if you read the fine print, it says it’s not moderated by Apple, it’s moderated by community members,” Fowler said. “But to the average person, when that shows up in the search results, the only thing they see is ‘apple.com’ and ‘MacKeeper scam.’ … So what these guys did, and they did this all over the Web, was they would create 20 or 30 fake accounts, build them up a little bit, comment here and there, get a little bit of rating on them, and they would post a question.”
According to Fowler, MacPaw relied on Google queries to compile statistical data to back up what it was saying about MacKeeper.
“They would say, ‘Is MacKeeper a scam?’ That’s what people were searching for. And they would come back with these beautifully well-written, perfect responses,” Fowler said. “And then they would just fill up the thread and close it out. And then there was absolutely nothing we could do. It already ranked high because it was an Apple domain. This went on for at least two years.”
Indeed, a Kromtech representative provided me with a link to a disparaging post on the Apple discussions forum, titled, “Do not install MacKeeper,” and showed that it had been reposted on the forum at least 18 more times. There appeared to be no question that someone was out to trash MacKeeper. But how did Kromtech know it was MacPaw?
“We were screaming from the mountaintop that we were being attacked, and everybody was like, ‘Prove it,’” Fowler said. “We finally did. What we ended up doing was we hired an IP lawyer, and we found a fake reviews site that just really trashed us, and lifted up the competitor with every article. We filed suit against the hosting provider, and we caught them through billing documents that way. We ended up settling it out of court.”
But according to Julia Petryk, MacPaw’s PR manager, that’s nonsense. When asked if MacPaw engaged in any of the activity that Fowler alleged, she replied, “Absolutely not. From the very beginning, we’ve been solely focused on building our reputation, which is hard enough when you develop a Mac cleaning software.”
Petryk referred to what was apparently a different lawsuit that Kromtech filed against MacPaw. She said Kromtech voluntarily dismissed that lawsuit prior to the hearing.
From what I can tell, I appear to have stumbled into something of a cross-town rivalry. The town happens to be Kiev—both Kromtech and MacPaw have Ukrainian roots, and it’s clear that the companies really don’t like each other. Sorting through all the claims and counter-claims is one of the things that makes this story so convoluted. Fowler claimed that MacPaw’s CleanMyMac is “based on the MacKeeper platform.” Not so, Petryk said. She provided archived references to CleanMyMac and MacKeeper that, she said, show that “CleanMyMac was in existence two years prior to the MacKeeper website.”
For his part, Fowler insists that MacPaw’s attack campaign killed a percentage of the market that MacKeeper will never get back.
“They pretended to be an authority on it,” he said. “As you know, on the Internet, if you don’t get your message out there, somebody will get it out there for you. And that’s what these guys ended up doing.”
In any case, the MacKeeper folks say they’ve learned some valuable lessons from all of this that they’re happy to share with other companies that have suffered from a tarnished reputation.
One, they said, is to listen to your customers, and to be proactive in responding to complaints. Another is to seek legal assistance if you’re the victim of a negative attack on your reputation. But the most valuable one, as Fowler indicated, appears to be this: You have to communicate your brand message, or others will do it for you.
“Protecting your brand and your reputation really is making sure that you have a communication game plan at the beginning,” Fowler said. “That’s something that we didn’t do, because we were so focused on technology, and coming up with this cool, innovative stuff. While all of the attention was focused there, some stuff fell through the cracks along the way in communicating the clear message of who we are, what we do, and what we’re about.”
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.