Microsoft's nasty anti-Google Scroogled ads pay off...or do they?

Microsoft's series of anti-Google "Scroogled" ads seem to be paying big dividends for Microsoft, conclude two ad-effectiveness firms. But dig a little deeper and look at the numbers: Is Microsoft  wasting its money with its Scroogled effort?

Microsoft has gone hard after Google with its Scroogled ad series, critizing the company for privacy invasions, poor search results, and more. This type of hardball campaign is unusual in what is frequently more upbeat tech advertising -- and it appears to be working. Ad Age reports:

The Scroogled ads, negative to the core, are a rarity for consumer tech. Even the mean-spirited "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" variety featured a product comparison at least. But while the tactics may be ugly, the ads are working, according to two ad effectiveness firms, and research commissioned by Microsoft, which finds the ads are tarnishing Google's image in the eyes of viewers and putting Microsoft products -- including underdogs such as Bing -- into the consideration set.

Ad Age says that the Ace Metrix ad-effectiveness research firm found that 53% of those who had seen Microsoft's Scroobled ad campaign would look at Bing "in a new light" or try to get more information about Bing. Jonathan Symonds, exec VP-marketing at Ace Metrix told Ad Age:

"For Microsoft it's a win...Microsoft will happily accept these outcomes."

Another ad-effectiveness measurement company, Advertising Benchmark Index, came to a similar conclusion. Company president Gary Getto said:

"They have certainly raised the level of awareness of Google's activities based on the call-to-action metrics," said Mr. Getto. "People are going to talk to each other and visit the website to discuss the issue."

Negative ad campaigns like Scroogled are popular among politicians, but rare in the tech world. So it should be no surprise that the person behind the campaign is a well-known political hardball consultant, Mark Penn, who had been involved in many political campaigns, and was an advisor to the Clintons.

But what works for politics may not work as well for consumer tech in the long term, according to Symonds at Ad Metrix. Ad Age reports:

The "Scroogled" ads are actually less effective than comparison ads placing the products side by side, according to Ace Metrix. Mr. Symonds said Microsoft is likely using the more negative ads to win away hardcore Google supporters and comparison ads to win over "independents." But the money appears to be better spent on the less-negative ads.

The real truth of what works, though, can't be measured by ad firms. It can only be measured by market share. And judged by that, the Scroogled campaign has not worked well. comScore's most recent search engine market figures show Google still well ahead of Microsoft in September, by a margin of 66.9% to 18% -- a margin of 48.9%. A month ago, Google led by 66.9% to 17.9%. Microsoft's increase of 0.1% that month doesn't amount to much. In May, Google led Microsoft by 66.7% to 17.4%, 49.3%. That means Microsoft has gained only 0.4% since then. So Penn may enjoy overseeing a brass-knuckles ad campaign, like he did in his bygone political days, but it doesn't seem to be paying off for Microsoft.

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