Negative political ads work; that’s why we continue to see them. But negative search engine and email ads? Apparently, not so much.
Microsoft is reportedly ending buying TV, newspaper and social media ads promoting its “Scroogled” campaign, which was launched in November to attack Google’s all-paid-inclusion shopping search results. Earlier this year, the Scroogled campaign expanded to take on Gmail privacy.
NOTE: See our postscript below. Microsoft confirms that ad buys are stopping but says the “campaign” will continue — presumably the web site.
The theme of the overall campaign was “Google deception” or “Google dishonesty.” Google doesn’t tell you that its shopping search results are all paid. Google doesn’t tell you that it scans your (private) email to deliver ads in Gmail.
Microsoft also started an online petition to “Tell Google to stop going through your email to sell ads.” The petition more than accomplished its goal of 25,000 signatures (it captured 114,000). Notwithstanding the petition signatures, the ads seem to have had little if any impact.
Google’s search market share remained stable throughout the period of the campaign.
Gmail claims to be the global webmail leader, though some percentage of users have accounts because of Android. It’s second to Yahoo in the US according to comScore data. (Microsoft recently migrated users from Hotmail to Outlook.com.) While there was an initial uproar over Gmail privacy when ads first appeared in the service years ago, there seems to be comparatively little concern about it today — or at least that concern hasn’t translated into migration away from Gmail.
The Scroogled campaign was widely believed to be the brainchild of former Hillary Clinton campaign manager and Microsoft strategy consultant Mark Penn. However, Microsoft said that Penn “had little to do with Scroogled.” Penn’s PR firm, however, ran an anti-Google campaign on behalf of Facebook in 2011.
Microsoft’s earlier “Bing it on” Pepsi-challengesque campaign, which argued that people actually prefer Bing to Google in a blind comparison, also had little impact on the market. Indeed, Microsoft has spent countless millions in marketing on Bing. While those campaigns have no doubt boosted Bing as a brand and resulted in some lift in usage, almost all of that has come at the expense of Search Alliance partner Yahoo.
Having tried positive ads and attack ads, it’s not clear what sort of campaign would “stick” against Google. There probably is an effective approach, but Bing and its ad agency haven’t found it yet.
Below is a selection of the Scroogled and anti-Gmail ads Microsoft ran.
Postscript: Microsoft’s Stefan Weitz emailed me and said that the campaign was winding down, not because it was ineffective, but on schedule. He argues that Microsoft needs to run less paid media now to educate consumers:
As the issue has jumped into the mainstream and is becoming more present in everyday Americans’ minds, the amount of paid media we need to run to raise awareness is decreasing. That the campaign has jumped from mainstream back into the technosphere (see the RSA conference this week where Google’s GC again avoided the core issue) shows how it’s not just about ads running – it’s about the substance of the problem. We are definitely not dropping the campaign issue when we see things like 114k people from around the world have signed the petition and we’ve seen over 3.5MM people head to the Scroogled site.
Postscript 2: See our follow-up story, The Rise & Fall Of Microsoft’s “Scroogled” Petition Against Gmail
- Microsoft Hires Hillary Clinton’s Former Campaign Chief Mark Penn For Bing Strategy Role
- Bing Attacks Google Shopping With “Scroogled” Campaign, Forgets It’s Guilty Of Same Problems
- Bing Shopping As A Poster Child For Consumer Confusion About Ads
- Microsoft Attacks Gmail Over Privacy In Latest “Scroogled” Campaign
- Microsoft’s “Scroogled” Campaign Against Gmail Wins 0.002% Of Users