Why Does Tech Advertising Have to be so Mean?

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During last year's election, negative advertisements from candidates were used to sling mud at their opponents. It's become common these days for political parties to engage in fear-mongering attack ads, but typically, this type of action is limited to politics. 


However, Microsoft has just released the second phase of their “Scroogled” ad campaign, and it's just mean – plain and simple. If you haven't seen the ads yet, they feature a man sitting in front of his laptop while his wife or significant other is looking over his shoulder. She sees that his screen has ads for bankruptcy attorneys and asks him about them. He says he isn't planning on declaring bankruptcy, but the ads just started popping up recently. The woman then smiles and explains that since he uses Gmail, Google goes through and reads every single email he sends or receives. He searches his history and finds the cause of his bankruptcy ads: an email saying that he eats at a specific restaurant so frequently that he might have to take out a second mortgage. The woman goes on to explain that Google sells the contents of his email messages to people in order to target ads to him. He then gets angry and says that he uses Google and gets “Scroogled.” At the end, a voiceover advises people not to get “Scroogled” and instead use Outlook – because Microsoft thinks email should be private.


This type of negative advertising and the deliberate attack on a competitor is controversial. Although this isn't the first time that Microsoft has attacked Google's Gmail service (remember the Gmail Man campaign), it is the first time that they have deliberately attempted to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt as a way to attract more customers. Many people, including a writer at TechCrunch, wonder why Microsoft has to waste time attacking Google, instead of talking about the things that make Microsoft's Outlook.com email service different and better than Gmail. Instead of bashing the competition, why not develop better products and promote them based on the unique services they offer?


It's no secret that Google does scrape data from Gmail user's messages. They have always been open and honest about their policy and they use the data to target relevant advertising to their customers. Of course, it's not as though a person sits and reads all of someone's personal email. Google simply uses an algorithm that scans messages for keywords. Whether you don't mind it or find it a violation of privacy, it's a very up-front part of the free email service. 


Microsoft has recently hired a longtime Democratic political operative, Mark Penn, as “Corporate Vice President for Strategic and Special Products.” This is the same person who worked with both Bill and Hillary Clinton during their presidential campaigns. It seems that Penn's job is primarily to help push some of Microsoft's lagging products, namely Bing. However, by using some of the same tactics he learned during his political career, he is making Microsoft look bad.


But, do negative ads help boost sales?


Microsoft's recent attack ads aren't the first time that a tech company has stooped to slinging mud or attacking a competitor. The most memorable being the “I'm a Mac; I'm a PC” ads by Apple, which tried to damage Microsoft’s image. Although people claim that they don't like negative ads in politics, they actually do work. By spreading fear and distrust, one side can cause a breakdown of brand identity and brand loyalty.


Typically, a negative political ad focuses on an issue and gives facts to back up their accusations. Although they tend to be exaggerations, for the most part, they are true - which is the case with Microsoft's campaign. Yes, Google does scan every email and uses the data to sell targeted advertising. The ads, while not total lies, can be extremely effective at damaging a competitors credibility.


Tech advertising has historically been positive, with each company trying to show off their products and demonstrate how much happier people are who use them. This negative campaign is a reflection of a growing trend in technology that is polarizing consumers into very separate categories. You can see this in tech discussions almost everyday. You have your Google fans, the Apple people, those who love Microsoft and more recently, those who belong to Amazon's fast-growing group.


It remains to be seen if this sort of negative advertising is part of a new trend in tech, or if it's just an attempt by Microsoft to crumble just a little piece off of the giant that is Google. In the meantime, I'm going to check my Gmail and hope I don't get “Scroogled.”


What do you think about negative advertising? Do you think they work and do you think we'll see more of them? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Image source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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