"So get Photoshop fired up and make your funniest (and yet not in any way offensive) version of the Polish Microsoft head replacement. No rules. Replace all the heads if you want to. Add costumes and props. And text bubbles," it said on its site.
The winner gets a Bing (Microsoft's search engine) T-shirt in the mail.
Ultimately, the affair elicited an apology from Microsoft, which said in a statement, "We are looking into the details of this situation. We apologize and have replaced the image with the original photograph."
Earlier this summer, officials in Toronto had to defend their own decision to decieve its audience when it was learned that they had superimposed the face of a black man over that of a white man to make a recreation brochure look more inclusive.
A spokesman for the department responsible for the summer "Fun Guide" told the city's National Post newspaper in June that the alteration was consistent with the city's policy to reflect diversity.
"He superimposed the African-Canadian person onto the family cluster in the original photo. It was two photographs and one head was superimposed over the original family photo," said John Gosgnach, communications director for the social development division. "The goal was to depict the diversity of Toronto and its residents."
But, apparently, the diversity didn't pass the authenticity test for a graphics editor at the National Post. A program called TinEye that detects digital manipulation confirmed that it had been altered.
Jim Edwards, former managing editor for AdWeek and BNET.com columnist, said this example is not the only one of its kind. "It's not frequent, but one or two crop up each year, particularly in the advertising business," he said.
In advertising, there are no ethical restrictions when it comes to digital manipulation. But when those manipulations draw attention to race, the brand could find itself in trouble.
"It's the one thing you absolutely don't want to do," he said.
But race-altering edits have backfired for other brands too. In 2000, the University of Wisconsin admitted that it had doctored the cover of a brochure to make the school look more diverse.
Into an image of mostly white students cheering at a football game, it digitally inserted the face of a black student, Diallo Shabazz. Jet magazine quoted Shabazz as saying that he had never attended a football game at the university.
According to the National Press Photographers Association, the university reprinted all 106,000 copies of the brochure after it was caught.
In marketing and advertising, where most images are air-brushed and altered, such manipulations may hurt a company's image but they aren't considered ethical breaches. In news, however, it's an entirely different story.
"For news, it's just, you don't do it," said John Long, former president of the National Press Photographers Association and now the group's ethics chairman. "It has to be that simple. It comes down to it's just not right to lie to the public."
He said each time a news organization is caught manipulating images, it decreases the credibility of the entire industry in the eyes of the public.