Microsoft upped the ante this week in its long-running Scroogled campaign as it started to sell merchandise, including mugs, hats and t-shirts, that took new digs at its rival Google.
Some of the gear had already sold out by Friday. The $8 mug, for example, emblazoned with a Google logo and the words "Keep calm while we steal your data," was marked "Out of stock," as was the $12 t-shirt with the same design. Other items, including a $15 baseball cap, a $26 hoodie and other t-shirts, showed a three- to four-week shipping delay.
But while the goods flew off the shelves of Microsoft's online store -- and the Redmond, Wash. company received an enormous amount of press on the swag sale -- analysts remained convinced that the campaign was futile, a waste of Microsoft's resources.
They also remain convinced that the hats and t-shirts and mugs were being purchased for reasons Microsoft had not intended.
"What I found the most fascinating is that the [merchandise] is essentially selling out," said Peter LaMotte, an analyst with Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic communications consultancy, and a former advertising executive. "It's selling incredibly quickly, but people aren't doing it as support for Microsoft or what Microsoft is trying to accomplish, but as ironic or gag gifts."
LaMotte pointed to comments across the Web, including several cited by Forbes, where buyers said they were doing just that.
"Probably sold out because Googlers bought them all up," wrote one Google employee on his company's Google+ page after a colleague swatted at the sell-out of the mug with the comeback, "If only the Surface [was] this popular."
The reference to "Surface" was another jab at Microsoft; its Surface tablet line struggled to gain ground -- with the company taking a $900 million write-off to account for over-optimistic inventories of the Surface RT.
Others saw the merchandising as evidence Microsoft had it backwards, an opinion reinforced by the online commentary from some buyers that they considered the gear chic because it was ironic. "They've put the cart before the horse," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, in an interview. "You want advocates before merchandising, so I think this is too early."
Both LaMotte and Moorhead put the mugs, caps and t-shirts into context. For all the publicity the sales generated, neither believed Scroogled had done more than stir the pot.
"I don't think this is turning out to a successful campaign [because] it's not moving the needle," said LaMotte. "That Microsoft is spending all this money to continue a poorly-devised marketing campaign is curious. Google is still winning this argument."
Some of Microsoft's 'Scroogled' merchandise -- like this mug -- has sold out. But one analyst argued that those snapping up the swag were buying them as gag gifts, not to support the anti-Google advertising campaign. (Image: Microsoft.)
Moorhead agreed. "While the research I've seen said [Scroogled] has been successful, there's no conclusion that it has had any sort of positive impact," Moorhead said.
That's not because Google doesn't have its detractors -- including Microsoft -- for its aggressive data collection habits, but that most people don't care, LaMotte argued.
"There is an issue, but it seems almost everyone is okay with it," said LaMotte. "Many people, generational issues aside, see [data collection] as beneficial to their experience. There's an Internet generation, and it's not age-specific, who are okay with a slight loss of privacy in return for a better experience, who don't look at everything as being nefarious. So Microsoft's campaign may be falling on deaf ears."
Microsoft has been hammering on Scroogled for a year now, with various attack-ad campaigns aimed at Google's privacy, advertising and data-devouring practices. The crusade was designed by Mark Penn, a longtime political and media strategist who was hired by Microsoft in mid-2012. Penn, who worked as an adviser to former President Bill Clinton during his administration and on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, was credited by LaMotte with applying political- and activist-style tactics to technology marketing.
Google has declined to battle Microsoft directly over Scroogled, although it responded to the swag sale with a brief comment. "Microsoft's latest venture comes as no surprise; competition in the wearables space really is heating up," the company said in an emailed statement to Computerworld and other media outlets this week.
Google got in its own dig by citing "wearables," which the Mountain View, Calif. company meant to evoke its own Google Glass and compare that futuristic product with Microsoft's old-school hats and hoodies.
Moorhead tipped his figurative hat to Google for its reply. "Their No. 1 goal is to take the high road," Moorhead said. "They want to make it look like Scroogled is not that serious [of a threat], more like a fly bugging you."
But LaMotte countered, saying Google would be smart to just keep its collective lips zipped. "Its best strategy is just to remain silent, and let their supporters speak for them. If they [overtly] laughed in the face of Microsoft [and Scroogled], it could come back to hurt Google," LaMotte said. "It's a lot easier to make a foolish comment if you make any comments at all."
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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