Scroogled: Why So Negative, Microsoft?

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The sold-out Surface Pro sure makes it look as if Microsoft had a pretty good week, but while its hardware division is out celebrating, the web division seems to be hell-bent on adding fire to its war with Google. Just after the Surface Pro review embargo expired earlier this week – and Microsoft got to bask in far more praise than it got for the Surface RT – its marketing team picked up the unnecessarily aggressive “Scroogled” campaign against Google once again.

For this campaign, the most visible marketing efforts it currently runs for its Outlook.com email service, Microsoft has decided to take a very aggressive approach. But why? Outlook.com is a very good email client that offers a lot of features that differentiate it from Google’s service. Why then does Microsoft feel the need to go negative?

In this new campaign, Microsoft reminds people that the evil Gmail Man “goes through your personal email sent to Gmail and uses the content to sell ads.” It features all the requisite Surface-studded videos (thankfully, they are a step above the Windows 7 party video and the infamous SongSmith ad), Facebook and Twitter campaigns, and even a petition. That petition, by the way, isn’t exactly going viral. Just over 4,100 people have signed it so far. Microsoft is hoping for 25,000.

Have you been Scroogled?It’s no secret that Gmail’s algorithms do evaluate the content of your email to serve you personalized ads – Google is relatively open about that and you can opt out of these. Our own Sarah Perez already covered all of these arguments. What I don’t get is why Microsoft feels the need to run such a negative campaign. Outlook.com is a very well-designed modern webmail client. It can compete with Gmail on features alone. Quite a few Gmail users have tried it (and you can use it with your Gmail account, too). It’s got tools like Active View that Gmail doesn’t have. Its interface is clean and modern, while Gmail is starting to feel a bit cluttered.

“Google goes through every Gmail that’s sent or received, looking for keywords so they can target Gmail users with paid ads.”

Before Christmas, Microsoft ran a similar campaign that put Google’s now paid-for shopping search into its crosshairs. That campaign, too, included a healthy dose of FUD given that Bing’s search results also include a good number of paid-for inclusions. I don’t think that campaign left a lasting impression on those who read about it.

Why doesn’t Microsoft just focus on what it does better than Google? People won’t switch to Outlook en masse because of privacy concerns, but they may switch for the features. Email, of course, is just part of what users expect from a modern suite of web apps, and even there, Microsoft doesn’t need FUD. Its free SkyDrive-based Office Web apps, for example, feel more feature-complete than the Google Drive tools, even though they get very little hype in the press. SkyDrive itself is pretty impressive, too, and can easily keep up with Google Drive. Bing is a matter of preference, but instead of focusing on how Google’s shopping results may or may not be driven by paid placements, why not highlight Bing’s focus on social search – an area where it has a leg up against Google (though it still remains to be seen if that is something people really care about).

scroogled_logoNegative campaigns like the “Scroogled” ads can work well, as every seasoned politician will likely tell you, but the potential backlash makes them a risky proposition. Microsoft’s marketing team clearly believes that the benefits outweigh the risks, but even though the campaign got plenty of media pickup, I doubt that it will get people to switch. Instead, it makes Microsoft look petty, desperate and overly aggressive.