You may have seen the recent “attack ads” against Google’s popular Gmail application. The ads, paid for by Microsoft, smack of the take-no-prisoners negative campaign advertisements we have come to expect in our presidential and congressional campaigns.
But not very often do we see such negative ads in corporate advertising campaigns.
Mark Penn, one of the political wunderkinds behind President Bill Clinton, has been hired as a full time campaign adviser to Microsoft. He is tasked with bringing his advertising and messaging prowess to the ongoing technology market-share battle between Microsoft and Google.
One observer of the tech industry pegged it well when he reacted to the news of Microsoft’s campaign:
Negative campaigns like the “Scroogled” ads can work well, as every seasoned politician will likely tell you, but the potential backlash makes them a risky proposition. Microsoft’s marketing team clearly believes that the benefits outweigh the risks, but even though the campaign got plenty of media pickup, I doubt that it will get people to switch. Instead, it makes Microsoft look petty, desperate and overly aggressive.
I know from personal experience that negative campaigning works…to drive up your opponent’s negatives. But unless you’re also following that negative messaging with some positive messaging, as to why you’re better, it’s ultimately money thrown into the wind. And complicating that conundrum is that if your messaging doesn’t fit into what consumers (voters) think of the product, the reality you’re trying to peddle won’t be matched by their reality.
To wit: Mitt Romney and the Republican SuperPACs spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars telling Americans why President Obama was not worthy of a second term. But the reality they were peddling didn’t match how people actually viewed the President. In short, they were barking up the wrong tree, and probably in the wrong forest to boot.
I predict the same result will befall Microsoft and its negative campaign against Google. Microsoft’s products are somewhat newer than the primitive tools used by early Neanderthals. But not much. Google’s products are fresh, always evolving, fun, and integrated. And more importantly, their products are widely accepted and loved.
So, good luck with the Scroogled campaign, Mark. I might remind you that you got President Clinton to 43% on the ballot in 1992, and 49.2% in 1996.
And by the way, I’ve got a good list of potential names for the response campaign against Microsoft. But this is a family blog, so I’ll keep it clean.
Full disclosure, PolicyWorks is proud to have Google as a client.