This July, Microsoft Corp hired a former strategic adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, to work as the company’s corporate vice president for strategic and special projects: Mark Penn. This is the man behind Bing’s latest PR campaign against Google – a campaign widely criticized by the public and some media, despite the fact that Penn is convinced that negative ads are “good for democracy.”
Note that Penn’s approach is not innovative, nor unique. In the UK, competitor-bashing commercials are common. It’s always fun to see ASDA against TESCO, or Aldi’s brand against no-brand ads.
“Google Shopping is nothing more than a list of targeted ads that unsuspecting customers assume are search results,” the campaign warns. “They call these Product Listing Ads a truly great search. We say that when you limit choices and rank them by payment, consumers get Scroogled. For an honest search result, try Bing.”
This is not the first campaign of its kind designed by Penn to help Bing against Google. It is, in fact, the second this year. The first was a tremendous success for Bing. In January 2012, Bing ditched its Decision Engine tagline, replacing it with Bing is for doing. The search engine followed up in the Summer, right after Microsoft hired Penn, with a massive PR campaign: Bing It On, a “challenge” designed to show users how Bing results are better than Google’s. As a result, Microsoft experienced one of its biggest US consumer perception surges in two years.
The negative campaigning followed up with Don’t get scroogled, a fun. tongue-in-cheek approach to showing customers that Google’s shopping results are not based on algorithms, but on paid placements by Google partners. Unfortunately, Bing is doing some of the things they preached against, which made the commercial less credible, and scored some “trust” points for Google – the search engine that announced publicly that it would introduce all-paid listings for Google Shopping.
This campaign reminds a lot of an election campaign, where political rivals turn against each other, using smear commercials to attract public attention and to gain traction. It may not be seen as fair play by some, but all is fair in love and war, and even more so in politics. At least, Microsoft no longer stabs Google in the back from the shadows – now the reputation damaging efforts are public, “in your face” – a more honest approach, albeit some may consider it “evil.” Google itself is now very far from its “do no evil” philosophy. Fighting evil with evil may is a way of fighting, and it is very entertaining for the public.