Is Microsoft “Scroogling” Itself?

Microsoft just shot another bullet at Google. The tech giant released a viral video ripping Google’s Chromebook to pieces as part of its Scroogled Campaign. The video features Rick and the old man from Gold & Silver Pawn Shop and has received a meager 48,603 views despite having been in circulation for over a fortnight.

The hyper-negative Scroogled Campaign (launched in 2012) “is having a huge impact as consumers learn the stark difference between what Google says and what Google does,” claimed a Microsoft representative. The tech giant has reportedly spent between $30-90 million on the Google-bashing campaign, but the question is, are negative ads really helping Microsoft move in on Google’s market share?

“The ads are working, according to two ad effectiveness firms and research commissioned by Microsoft, which finds the ads are tarnishing Google’s image in the eyes of viewers and putting Microsoft products—including underdogs such as Bing—into the consideration set,” states Ad Age.

The campaign is succeeding in creating conversation, triggering debate and making Microsoft a more recognizable name in areas where Google holds a near monopoly, like the search engine realm. But the question still remains, is tarnishing Google’s brand image really helping Microsoft get ahead? Or more elementarily, is Microsoft actually succeeding in tarnishing Google’s image at all? If the purpose of the campaign is to get people talking, mission accomplished, if it is to unseat Google or enhance the Microsoft brand, well not so much. Even Bing, one of Microsoft’s most successful ventures, is only really eviscerating Yahoo’s market share and leaving Google mostly untouched.

More importantly, this campaign may be damaging Microsoft’s brand health and authenticity in the long run. The brand is starting to look like the seedy old politician filling voters heads with paid propaganda because that’s the only way he can win—especially in light of both Google’s marketing strategy, which focuses on positive, feel-good campaigns, and Google’s decision to pretty much, “stay above the fray” and not respond to Microsoft’s brazen brand-bashing.

Scroogled.com is the epicenter of the campaign and features tabs on each of Google’s offerings: Chromebook, Google apps, Gmail, shopping etc. Each of these clickable links takes you to a propaganda-filled page about why Google is the worst thing since Rebecca Black. The site features petitions to “Stop Google”, a wide selection of scathing condemnations of Google by media houses and third party commentators and, wait for it…an online store with anti-Google merchandise.

Video is the backbone of the campaign, yet the videos Microsoft utilizes to descry every facet of the Google brand conform to the “negative political ad” format for the most part. This campaign seems to make sense when viewed in light of Microsoft hiring Mark Penn in 2012. Penn is a noted political and media strategist who was employed under both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s administration and campaigns respectively. Penn is said to have even coined the term “Scroogled” himself.

The campaign tries to position itself as one which is “exposing the lies of a big corporation” and relies heavily on political go-to tools like scare-tactics and oversimplification. The concepts seem dated, inauthentic and cast Microsoft as an acutely threatened competitor trying to get a bite of the pie. A campaign like this—no matter how accurate its claims may be—cannot and will not be received the way the publisher intends it to be because of the publisher’s obvious vested interest.

While negative ads and dirty games are “givens” in politics, they aren’t quite as acceptable in the media landscape, especially when creative, positive campaigns are erupting across the industry (e.g. the Oreo “Wonderfilled” campaign or Pantene’s #WhipIt campaign in the Philippines which received support from the doyenne of female empowerment herself, Sheryl Sandberg).

If Microsoft insists on going the “detract from your competitor” route, it should take a leaf out of Samsung’s book. Samsung destroyed Apple in terms of global cell phone sales this year. Samsung led the market with 34%, leaving Apple trailing with 15%. The company once banked on a negative ad strategy too, but it was subtle and entertaining. Samsung made light of the iPhone craze while highlighting the features of its own product, a far cry from Microsoft’s almost militant ‘call to action’ campaign against Google.

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