By now, if you haven’t just emerged from beneath your rock, you have encountered Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign. It is not particularly new, after all. But is it truly making a difference? I think it is, but not in any way that Microsoft has intended.
The push against Google has been underway for some time, implemented by former Hillary Clinton presidential campaign manager Mark Penn, and we know how things ended for him there. Despite that, Microsoft scooped up Mr. Penn and named him Corporate Vice President for Strategic and Special Projects. He launched with an attack on Gmail, featuring a rather creepy mailman snooping into everyone’s business. In other words, he returned to his political mud-slinging roots. The campaigns we all hate, the ads we switch away from when they run on our TVs and radios, were now appearing in the tech industry.
Things have rolled further down the proverbial hill since then. The latest attack has been on Google’s Chrome OS, more specifically the notebooks, known as Chromebooks, that run the operating system. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen Microsoft hire actors from Pawn Stars in a feeble effort to call a Chromebook worthless, referring to it as “a brick”. This was followed quickly by Ben Rudolph, of Smoked by Windows Phone fame, tramping the streets of Venice, California, looking for “average users”. The cameras conveniently never found a single person who thought the Chromebook Rudolph showed them was of any use. For his own part, the Microsoft evangelist conveniently forgot that Google Docs has offline capabilities. For that reason, I shall conveniently forget that Office Web Apps do not have an offline version.
Where are the problems with all of this? Well, aside from negative ads driving resentment from average people, there are other missteps here. And we are going to tick through the biggest ones now. If you have one I have missed, then please add it in the comments below.
First and foremost is the completely disingenuous nature of all of this. Gmail may scan your messages and use keywords to generate ads, but every email service, including Outlook.com, scans messages. That’s the very nature of how spam filtering works. Outlook.com, which Microsoft wishes Gmail users would switch to, also displays ads, and will only relent on them if you pay $19.95 per year. Ask yourself this – if I am going to see ads, would I rather they be relevant to me, or just random?
Second, on the Chromebook front, Microsoft has succeeded only in bringing attention and free advertising to a platform that really should never have scared it, but somehow has managed to terrify the Redmond company. Why is Microsoft, with Windows dominating the OS market, scared of Chrome? Does the company know something we don't?
Third, but still in the Chrome OS arena, Microsoft risks potentially alienating its biggest supporters – the OEMs who build Windows computers and tablets. HP, Acer, Samsung and, most recently Dell, are the biggest reason Windows is likely on your desktop and laptop. Yet Microsoft seeks to damage another arm of the business model, the one that builds devices for Chrome OS, for all of those companies. How do you justify stepping on the toes of those that fill your coffers with revenue?
No, Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign, while sometimes amusing, is nothing much more than a comedy skit at best. At worst, it runs the risk of angering partners and damaging Microsoft’s reputation much more than it will ever ding Google’s. It's a lose-lose proposition, and one that Microsoft seemingly has to intentions of relenting on, despite the growing outcry against it.