Microsoft turns Scroogled into 'Schoolgled' in new anti-Google attack ad

Picks up the pace, with today's offensive less than two weeks after the last

Microsoft today stepped up the pace of its "Scroogled" attack ads, launching a new one just 12 days after the last.

The latest wave in the Scroogled campaign, timed to coordinate with the announcement of "Bing for Schools," slammed the Google search engine's practice of placing advertisements on results pages.

As an alternative, Microsoft has offered schools an ad-free version of its Bing search engine and let parents apply Bing Rewards credits -- earned for using the company's search service -- to schools, which can redeem them for free Surface RT tablets.

In conjunction with the official launch of Bing for Schools, Microsoft kicked off another round of Scroogled.

"When students use Google for searches in school, they are shown ads that can distract from their studies," Microsoft argued on the Scroogled website.

Along with the usual blizzard of marketing copy and statistics, Microsoft posted examples of the likely ad placements on Google for searches of "chemistry" and "stock market," then compared them to ad-free pages on Bing.

A 30-second television spot was also planted on the page. In the ad, a teenager boasts that she learned about "how to refinance my mortgage" and "how to get a deal on vitamin supplements" while researching ancient Mesopotamia on Google.

Microsoft has been attacking various parts of Google's ecosystem since November 2012, but today's school-oriented ad was notable because it followed the previous by less than two weeks.

Earlier Scroogled campaigns ran much further apart. Microsoft launched the third attack two months after the second, and the fourth four months after the third.

Microsoft pulled out a new trick for the schools-are-Scroogled campaign, too; it offered parents a sample script to use when calling their children's school district CIO, and a sample letter to send to its technology coordinator, expressing their displeasure with Google and advocating for Bing.

"Well it is really important to me that my SON/DAUGHTER has a safer, ad-free experience with enhanced privacy protections at school and I know Google doesn't offer one and Bing does," the phone-in script read.

"Advertisements in the search experience can be distracting for our students, and Google search continues to show them in the school context," the stock letter stated.

The script and letter were new examples of what one expert has called advocacy tactics in the Scroogled project. Advocacy initiatives, like those used in political or activist campaigns, often include boilerplate letters that voters can send to their legislators, and simple calling scripts to use when phoning in an opinion.

Microsoft's advocacy angle likely stemmed from Mark Penn, a longtime political and media strategist, who was hired by Microsoft in mid-2012 to head a strategic special projects group. Penn, who worked as an adviser to former President Bill Clinton during his administration and on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, has been credited with creating Scroogled.

Along with the Scroogled tie-in, Microsoft also linked Bing for Schools to its three-year-old Bing Rewards, a frequent flier-like program where consumers -- in this case, parents -- can accumulate points for using Bing.

Parents can donate their points in 250- and 500-point blocks to a local school, which in turn can redeem 30,000 points for a free Surface RT with a Touch Cover.

Microsoft estimated that 60 parents using Bing could collect enough points for a free tablet in a month. By Microsoft's math, each parent would earn 500 points per month. That puts the value of a Surface RT at approximately $286 when using a $5 value for 525 points; Microsoft has several $5 offers, including Amazon.com, Fandango and Starbucks gift cards, at that point "price."

Microsoft sells the Surface RT and Touch Cover to school districts for $249 in a program that launched in mid-June and runs through the end of this month.

It's no surprise that Microsoft used Surface RT giveaways to promote Bing in Schools. The company has a surfeit of tablets, one so large that it was forced to take a $900 million charge against earnings last quarter to account for the surplus inventory and the 25% to 30% discounts it now offers consumers in an attempt to boost sales.

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 gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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