Microsoft Campaign Leverages Google’s Privacy Woes

Ad is a nod to privacy debate in Washington

Microsoft's new marketing campaign for its email service is tapping into consumers' growing fears that their privacy is being compromised on the Internet. This being Microsoft, it's doing that by taking aim at its prime rival, Google, which scans Gmail messages to target users with paid ads.

The "Don't Get Scroogled by Gmail" campaign (sporting the Google logo colors, of course) also does double-duty as an advocacy campaign that is likely to catch attention of the privacy hawks in Washington.

Google's privacy policy travails have been constant fodder for policymakers and regulators in Washington. Most recently, Google paid a $22.5 million fine to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it circumvented privacy settings in Apple's Safari browser, violating a settlement it reached with the regulator in 2011.

"We've seen what has been happening with Google and their privacy gaffes. This is an area they clearly aren't taking as seriously as they should," said Stefan Weitz, senior director of online services for Microsoft. "It's important policymakers see this."

The TV ad, which launched Thursday night on network TV and cable, attempts to turn a Washington privacy debate into a selling proposition for the average consumer.

"Privacy issues can be complex to explain. Most of us involved in tech and advertising understand it. So we're looking to find issues that are not clear to the everyday person and use this kind of creative to educate in bits and bites," Weitz said.

Nothing fancy, the TV ad features a young couple, Jeff and Susan. Jeff notices that all of a sudden, ads for full service bankruptcy started showing up in his email. Jeff doesn't understand why, but Susan does.

"Google goes through every single word of your Gmail and uses that information to sell ads," Susan says.

Jeff: "Google uses my personal information to sell ads? So I get scroogled."

"This taps into American's fear they are being spied on," said Weitz.

Microsoft is carrying through the "Scroogled" meme on a branded web site and in full-page ads that ran in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

The web site encourages people to comment on twitter, share their "scroogled" experiences" and sign a petition, which Microsoft intends to share with Google. "Google earns money by violating your privacy," the petition says. "Sign this petition and tell Google to stop going through your emails to sell ads." As of Friday, the site had 2,500 signatures and comments.

Microsoft's Weitz said that Google's decision to leverage its privacy advantage over Google was based on a GfK Roper poll commissioned by Microsoft that found that 70 percent of people didn't know services scanned personal email for ad targeting. When asked, 88 percent said they disapproved of the practice.

Asked if Microsoft might create a similar privacy campaign to tout its Do Not Track browser, Weitz dodged. "We'll see how this one works," he said.

The campaign will run into March. It was created for Microsoft by Wunderman, Y & R and VML.

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