Microsoft's controversial ‘Scroogled’ campaign has been given the green light in the UK, with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling that a radio ad wasn’t misleading.
The ad – like many others making up the company’s international campaign – focuses on Google's practice of scanning email for keywords in order to sell targeted ads. It uses schoolboy secret language Pig Latin to emphasise its point: “Ymay ivatepray emailway isway onway ofway eirthay usinessbay” – or “My private email is none of their business”.
Microsoft follows this up by claiming “Pig Latin may be hard to understand, but you probably need it if you use Gmail, because Gmail scans every word of your emails to sell ads. But Outlook.com doesn’t. And you can choose to opt out of personalised ads.”
Two people complained about the ad, pointing out that Microsoft scans the content of emails too. But the ASA ruled that, because this scanning was for the purposes of eliminating spam rather than targeting ads, Microsoft wasn’t being hypocritcal.
“We considered that listeners were likely to appreciate that this statement was only in relation to scanning for ad targeting, rather than protective scanning, and that the ad did not state or imply that no other forms of scanning were utilised,” it concluded.
The Scroogled campaign has been unpopular from the outset – particularly in the UK, where ads criticizing rival products are rare. When the campaign first launched in late 2012, the Scroogled Facebook page was inundated with critical messages – only one of the first 50 was supportive. The ads are aggressive, with highly-emotive language; for example Google’s activity is referred to as ‘reading’ emails, whereas Microsoft’s is merely ‘scanning’.
The campaign was the brainchild of Mark Penn, then the company’s head of advertising – but, since earlier this month, first chief strategy officer. It has formed part of a consistent attempt to discredit Google, with a team of lawyers and PR people with a reputed budget of a million dollars a week.
While Microsoft doesn’t scan the contents of emails to target ads, it does use other personal information.
“Microsoft collects and uses your personal information to operate and improve its sites and services,” its online privacy statement
reads. “These uses include… displaying content and advertising that are customized to your interests and preferences.”
This clearly isn’t as intrusive as scanning the content of individual emails. But is fueling privacy fears really a good way for the company to go? Shouting about being a bit less badly-bahaved than the competition doesn’t make either company look terribly good.