Microsoft has decided it no longer needs to run attack ads on TV, in print and through social media to push its “Scroogled” message against Google’s Gmail service. “Everyday Americans” apparently have gotten the word. If so, that’s not being reflected in signatures to the Microsoft-backed petition against Gmail.
At First, The Petition To Nowhere
Last month, I covered how after the first week of its existence, Microsoft’s petition was seeing a drop-off in signatures.
My story, Microsoft’s “Scroogled” Campaign Against Gmail Wins 0.002% Of Users, has the background. Here’s the key chart from that:
At the time, Microsoft’s goal was to collect 25,000 signatures, something I estimated would take it about two months to reach, given it was only getting about 325 signatures per day. But as it turned out, Microsoft soon passed the 25,000 mark and, in fact, even broke the 100,000 mark that it later changed to be its goal.
Here’s the cumulative growth of signatures since the petition was launched (you can click to enlarge):
On February 20, Microsoft jumped well past the 25,000 mark. On February 24, it pushed through the 100,000 level, a new goal it set and which remains the current one:
Ads Deliver Signatures
What happened? Ads. Microsoft started spending more on ads. I certainly recall seeing them associated with many TV shows I watched. I wish I’d kept better track of when I saw them now. But they clearly had an impact, with a particular push happening between February 19 and February 25.
Here’s the day-by-day chart, showing how many signatures happened on each date:
The biggest day was February 20, which generated 31,429 signatures, dropping a bit on February 21 to 27,280 signatures, before heading back down.
Without Ads, The Issue Disappears?
While it’s unclear where the ads ran or how often, it is clear that ads drove the signatures. It’s also clear that when the ads stop, there’s apparently no great groundswell of concern that keeps people signing the petition.
That doesn’t mesh with what Microsoft is saying about why it no longer is running ads. Yesterday, after KQED reported correctly that Microsoft was suspending its Scroogled ad buys, Microsoft went into overdrive assuring various media outlets that while the ads might be on hold, the overall Scroogled “campaign” would continue. We got one of those clarifications ourselves (postscripted to our story yesterday, Microsoft Dropping “Scroogled” Ads That Attack Google).
That prompted me to go back to Stefan Weitz, senior director of online services at Microsoft, for more clarification. What is the Scroogled “campaign” then, just the Scroogled website? Will ads be coming back? And what about this “next chapter” with Scroogled that Microsoft is talking about?
Microsoft: If There’s “There” There, Issue Will Continue On Its Own
Weitz emailed me:
The Gmail campaign is now really focused on non-paid media, social engagement, our own properties (the website, etc) and whatever else we need to do to get them to respond to the users who are saying “enough.”
The point of the paid side is really to reach the everyday American who might not read Marketing Land, TC [TechCrunch], or Wired and get the conversation started.
If there is a “there” there, these issues can go on their own. This is looking like one of those – it’s breaking into places like RSA conference, I’m getting inbounds from a bunch of stations across the country who want to talk about the issue more, and even getting some college students asking me questions.
If the ad buys were meant to raise awareness with ordinary Americans, one remarkable thing is how many signatures actually come from outside the US. Yes, the petition has plenty of US-based signatures. But substantial numbers are from outside the US, where maybe Microsoft’s message resonates just as well or maybe where ad buys are also happening [I'm checking on this].
Gmail Seems Unaffected
As for the idea that the issue will go on its own without the ad buys, that seems unlikely, at least as measured by the signatures to Microsoft’s petition.
No question, Microsoft has managed to revive a concern about Gmail that really hadn’t been an issue since Gmail first launched nearly 10 years ago with contextual ads — an issue that was hotly debated then and clearly rejected by consumers who used Gmail regardless.
But that revival doesn’t appear to be slowing Gmail down at all. In fact, heading over to Google’s own support forums, I found only one discussion where someone was upset enough to complain to Google directly over Gmail’s ads.
Along With Concern, Confused Petition Signers
Meanwhile, the Scroogled petition site continues to provide for fascinating reading. In my previous look at it, I found people mistakenly believing that private email is somehow like government mail, where there’s some right that it not be “opened.” Some believed that there were US Constitutional protections against this.
Some believed that Gmail was somehow sending them spam mail rather than showings ads next to email (exactly as Microsoft does, though it doesn’t target based on the content of the email). Some were actually anti-Microsoft. In my latest review, all these same patterns held true.
Next Steps From Microsoft; Easier-Opt Out From Google?
No doubt, mixed among these confused people are plenty who have real concerns about Gmail’s contextual targeting. Even if they remain a tiny, tiny minority of Gmail users, it would be nice if Google made the opt-out options for Gmail ad targeting that it does provide (despite Microsoft’s suggestion that it doesn’t) even easier to use.
My bet is that in a few months, Google will offer this as seemingly part of some other type of Gmail change it was making, so it doesn’t seem like it was reacting to Microsoft pressure.
As for Microsoft, personally, pitching Outlook.com as a service I’m supposed to consider over Gmail without providing common IMAP support makes it a non-starter. I’d rather see Microsoft put its efforts into fixing that than the negative campaigning.
And as for Microsoft’s next “chapter” for Scroogled? Weitz said, “nothing specific to report now” but added that Microsoft is “one of the only companies who can take on the charge here.” He said there are small and large businesses with issues relating to Google but which feel they can’t go on the record out of fear.
“We aren’t reliant on them, so we can point out things that others are wont to do,” he wrote.
- Microsoft Attacks Gmail Over Privacy In Latest “Scroogled” Campaign
- Microsoft’s “Scroogled” Campaign Against Gmail Wins 0.002% Of Users
- Microsoft Dropping “Scroogled” Ads That Attack Google