Microsoft’s Scroogled Campaign Hits New Low, Uses “Pawn Stars” Guys To Attack Chromebooks

“Wow. How sad.” That was my reaction to watching the latest in Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign against Google, this time using two of the stars from Pawn Stars to attack Chromebooks as not “real laptops” and part of Google’s overall plan to “Scroogle” people.

I’m struggling to understand how the geniuses behind the Scroogled campaign thought going after Chromebooks as somehow Google misleading people was a great idea. But to me — and I’m a big Pawn Stars fan — it comes off as weak and even desperate.

“It’s Pretty Much A Brick”

The video features a woman who walks into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, where Pawn Stars is based, to sell her laptop to get enough money for a ticket to Hollywood. In the video posted to Bing/MSN Video, she starts saying it was a gift from her mother (while on YouTube, that intro has been cut in the short version; it remains in the extended one). Here’s the MSN version:

I assume she’s already been to Hollywood, because it’s clear to me that she, as well as the Pawn Star folks, have been hired to do this all as a promotion for Scroogled. But the ad never discloses that she’s an actress, or that this has all been pre-scripted.

“What makes you think it’s worth that much,” asks Rick Harrison, one of the owners of the shop. “It’s a laptop,” she replies, followed by a cut-away to Rick laughing behind-the-scenes, part of the Pawn Stars format where the owners & assistants discuss items they’ve been offered away from patrons.

He explains, in keeping with the usual Pawn Stars-style, the background of the item. A Google Chromebook, a “relatively new style device” that, because it uses web-based applications, “when you’re not connected, it’s pretty much a brick. That’s a major drawback.”

Sure. And maybe I’m too familiar with Chromebook, but I’ve never heard any horror stories of people who bought one (it’s a best selling item on Amazon) and failed to realize they couldn’t use it without an internet connection.

Real Laptops Have Windows & Office

Rick goes on to explain to the woman in the shop that the Chromebook is not a “real laptop” because “it doesn’t have Windows or Office.” Which, presumably, makes anyone who owns a Mac without buying Office not having a real laptop. Or, anyone buying a Windows computer without Office only owning half -a-laptop.

Chromebooks Designed To Track & Sell Ads

Rick continues that without wifi, the computer isn’t of much use “and when you are online, Google tracks what you do, so they can sell ads.”

Again, there haven’t been a lot of horror stories about Chromebook phoning home about everything you do. Certainly the Chrome browser will fetch ahead for certain types of content; I’m fairly sure that Internet Explorer does the same.

If we’re talking ads, Windows 8 has new giant “Hero Ads” that show up baked into the operating system, an extension of other ad options in Windows 8 that people can buy. You can’t buy ads baked into Chromebooks. You just get them the old-fashioned way — in your browser.

“That’s how you get Scroogled,” Rick continues, causing his father — who also owns the shop and who is known on the show as “The Old Man” — to ask what Scroogled means. Rick goes on to explain that Google’s always trying to make money off your personal information. “This Chromebook hardware makes it even easier for them.”

The companion site to the ad does nothing I can see to document this “Chromebook spies on you” claim. There’s an entire “Chrome OS Cons” section where that’s not even listed as a drawback:


Chromebook gets slammed for poor apps & needing wifi access, limited access to games and media, no way to play DVDs and CDs, printing woes and lack of peripheral support. But as Google’s spy machine? Nothing.

You have to dig, oddly, into the “Chromebook Can’ts” area to get to Microsoft’s accusations which, in terms of Chromebook being designed to gather more of people’s data, isn’t really backed up:

The Bad Reviews Turn Out To Be Not All Bad

The companion site also features five expert reviews of how terrible Chromebooks are:

Going through the five reviews, three of them pretty much see no point in the Chromebook, such as where Jeffrey Van Camp came away completely convinced there was nothing good there: “Many people will see low price tags on Chromebooks and consider purchasing, hoping Chrome can meet their light computing needs. But it still has a lot of issues at the moment that could, and should, be resolved.”

But two others that are positioned as if they’re anti-Chromebook actually see value.

Julie Bort wrote for Business Insider that paying for the expensive Chromebook Pixel didn’t seem worth it but also concluded: “The upshot is, at under $300, like for an HP ChromeBook ($279, no touchscreen) a ChromeBook is fine for home, or school, where WiFi is reliable…. That said, I’m going to miss this Pixel after I send it back. For working at home on stable WiFi, I’ve learned to prefer it.”

Jill Duffy found it just wasn’t the thing for working offline on a flight, but added at the end, “I still do see the appeal for some people. A Chromebook costs less than an iPad $499.99 at Amazon and has a keyboard. All your work backs up to the cloud automatically (provided you have an Internet connection, of course). I’m not giving up on the Chromebook just yet, but I don’t trust it and will proceed with extreme caution as I continue to look for apps that might make the experience, well, tolerable.”

I wouldn’t recommend anyone by a Chromebook Pixel, myself. I did, but that was for work reasons, so I could be familiar with Google’s top-of-the-line machine. It’s a great machine, but it’s also a $1,300 web browser. That’s just too much money.

But an inexpensive Chromebook might be an ideal option for many people who want to get on the web in the way a traditional laptop allows but who don’t need all the features that also come with those laptops, including the higher price of those traditional devices.

A Scroogled Too Far

Overall, if Microsoft wanted to run a campaign comparing how Windows laptops are more versatile than Chromebooks, that would have been fair — and perhaps powerful. Even the Pawn Stars segment would have been great, in many ways. But when it starts falling into this somehow being an attempt by Google to “Scroogle” people, what’s next? Is the iPad an attempt by Apple to Scroogle people because it, also, can’t do all the things that a traditional laptop can?

Bringing in the Scroogled message just cheapens the message, to me.

I’ll be interested to see the reaction to this all. If it’s like the other Scroogled campaigns, there won’t be much. In October, there were a wave of stories on how Scroogled was working based off a terrible Ad Age story — which really just got ad experts to rate how effective they thought the ads were, not whether the ads were converting anyone. My story, Is Microsoft’s Scroogled Campaign Working? Not If Gaining Consumers Is The Goal, explains more.

Meanwhile, Rick of Pawn Stars has shared the video and gained three “sell out” responses, two in favor of the commercial and one person who says they like Chromebooks, so far:

By the way, the Pawn Stars shop doesn’t have any inventory of Chromebooks for sale. Nor Macs. Nor Windows computers. The only computers that are apparently worth pawning are tablet computers made by Apple and Google — but not Microsoft:

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features & Analysis | Google: Chrome | Google: Critics | Microsoft: Scroogled | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • RyanMJones

    You should take your chromebook to vegas and try to sell it to them. Then post the receipt for what they paid you.

  • Mark

    It seems like the point is to create negative sentiment in the public toward Google. No complaints here.

  • Harry Hawk

    This ad with the Pawn star crew comes across with far more authority than past ads which are perhaps more snarky. I think the Chromebooks are amazing of course..

    This is Microsoft trying to build up negative memes about Google… these negative feelings from Microsoft about Google, I can’t imagine why they have such feelings.. ;)

  • Larry Kim

    wow what an aggressive campaign. i like this one the best:

  • wp77

    Funny how Apple ran all those I’m a Mac ads and no one thought they were ‘new lows’. While often funny they were mostly fiction.

  • Tian_Mian

    Danny, i usually love reading your articles but this one reads like written by an upset crying baby. Give it a rest.

  • Lindamaeb

    I think the ad is genius…come on, man..if it were google, or apple slamming MSFT you’d be all over it in kudos and roses!!

  • Matthew Pack

    Marketing in this way does always seem a little desperate. Rubbish the competition. I have to agree with Tian though and I did enjoy the vid that Larry shared, its all good competitive noise. You don’t work for Google yet Danny? Do you?

  • LS650

    Microsoft can’t brag about their own product, so they stoop to bashing someone else’s.


  • Danny Sullivan

    As I said at the end, the video is pretty funny and makes some good points right up to the point where it makes the turn to “Scroogled” and the Chromebook somehow having secret spying tools that it doesn’t have — nor does Microsoft document those. If we’re just happy with funny ads that make unsubstantiated claims, I suppose all is fine. I’m not, regardless of what company they’re aimed at.

  • Danny Sullivan
  • Danny Sullivan

    Sorry you find it babyish to suggest that Microsoft took an otherwise funny ad and ruined it by trying to shove in the whole “Scroogled’ aspect with unsubstantiated claims that Chromebook is some type of spying machine. Me, I kind of feel like that’s an adult conversation to have. But, I guess we’ll disagree.

  • WJH

    I like Pawn Stars, and I like Chromebooks — but I also like geography. In what world would a ticket to out of the way Reno, which is 200 miles farther from Vegas than LA, be a cheaper ticket than a ticket on the more popular, shorter trip with many more travel options?

  • akaBeene

    Just like Apple and Google have done for the last 7 years

  • akaBeene

    Danny why didn’t you write anything about the Apple campaign that lasted for 6 years that a PC was inferior to a Mac (which also is a PC). Google does track all your habits for the sake of selling ads. No lies in the scroggled ad. Stop crying about it and stop writing articles for the sake of writing articles..

  • newyorker_1

    talking about sell out…

  • runninginterror

    i have a mac laptop ..i had to install a program to keep companies from tracking everything i bought and saw…it’s everywhere…and if someone didn’t know that the chromebook was just for surfing…they need to get checked out..(used to like pawn stars..was entertaining but it got tooooo scripted..and they are such cheap sleazy pieces of shit)

  • Jeff Allen

    This new ad (in addition to being pretty funny) is a perfect fit in the Scroogled franchise. I’m surprised you would argue otherwise.

    Scroogled is all about going after Google for their obvious advertising bias to everything they do – positioning everything as a “data collection engine.” Think about it: you search on your desktop on Apple’s browser – they track your searches somewhat anonymously. You search on your desktop on Apple’s browser while logged into Gmail – they track your searches associated with you. You search on your desktop on their browser, they track all of your browsing tied to you. You search on your wifi-connected chrome book using their browser, they know everything else you’re doing on your desktop and can tie that to all of your web browsing, all of your searching, etc. Go a step further and you add that it’s a cell-connected, GPS-enabled device, now they know everything plus where you are standing right now. Think that’s the end of it? Nope. Now they want to get between your eyes and the entire world with Glass. Every layer of the stack is another level of what Microsoft calls Scroogled.

    That said, I think the “screwed” part of “Scroogled” is only a fair label if people don’t know what Google is doing with their data. It’s no different than what a lot of publishers do, only instead of delivering you your favorite NFL game on a TV set in exchange for looking at ads, Google gives you software.

    It’s businesses who get “free” services from them in exchange for Google keeping a copy of their data that should be wary of the business model. Where else would you give your vendor a copy of the data that describes how well that vendor’s products are performing for you prior to a negotiation… Don’t think they don’t use Google Analytics data to support AdWords. I guarantee they aren’t running that service just to help businesses out with a little “free gift.”

  • Steve

    Google spies on it’s users? I’m shocked! News Flash: Google’s right to record, track, and keep indefinitely everything you do online on their devices and on their search engine is printed in plain black and white in every end user license agreement. Nothing is off limits. Not phone calls, not text messages, not search queries, not even where you surf the net (if you use chrome). Google has even been fined big $$$$ for trying to spy on people who don’t user their devices or their browser (they spied on iPhone safari users without permission and got caught with their hands in the cookie jar).

  • orbitary

    ‘The ad never discloses that she’s an actress’..Hilarious! Maybe they should have to disclose that fast food employee’s in tv commercials aren’t really employees, but models!

  • adobemanaz

    The ad with the Pawn Star guys is funny and effective. The fact the the author of this article takes offense means the ad did its job. It’s called advertising! And I’m sure anyone who’s going to spend $249 and higher for a Chromebook hopefully is going to ask the same questions when you can get a higher functioning Android or Windows tablet or small laptop. You can then take the argument further and ask consumers if you’re defending the Chromebook, what have you got against Windows RT??

  • Dylan Spencer

    Apple and Microsoft have always had a “healthy” rivalry. Steve and Bill were pretty good friends and those commercials were just poking fun. Each company knew who dominated what markets and they were fine with that. Its my opinion that Microsoft is getting really desperate here. Clearly promoting their Windows 8 and Rt products hasn’t been going too well. Look how great the Surface is doing. Now they’ve decided to try attacking other company’s instead. For anybody that can do a little tweaking, Chromebooks are perfect because one can install Ubuntu along side Chrome OS and have a full powered laptop that can run Windows programs. I am a Windows fan when it comes to laptops over $600. Any less than that and I’d rather have a Chromebook. Its a better value for the money. I’ll guess that that $250 Windows laptop doesn’t run so great. For that much money a Windows laptop is probably only good for internet browsing and documents anyways. Long story short (sorry for excessive post) Windows is great on a medium priced machine while Chromebooks are clearly the best cheap machines.

  • stoybob

    I love my chromebook! Ive been using it since it was released I have not had one problem with it and I also have a desktop running windows 8 and again dont have a problem with that either. I can only explain in one way that Microsoft is “jealous” but what would I know. It seems like it will go back and forth for a while and then just end.

  • ⛵The Other Denzel⛵

    Facebook and google make most of their money from selling your information… think about it, if all of thier products are free (androids open source, gmail, etc) why are they billion dollar companies?

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