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Microsoft wins Google Scroogle ads battle

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Wed Mar 26 2014, 11:40

THE UK ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY (ASA) has sided with Microsoft and decided that the Redmond firm can claim that Outlook offers more privacy than Gmail.

The The ASA was pulled into the debate after someone complained that Microsoft was painting an unfair picture of Gmail while offering a rose-tinted view of its own. The ASA decided that in this instance Microsoft is entitled to paint its email service in the softer hue.

At issue was a radio advertisement that limped onto the air as part of Microsoft's hoary Scroogled campaign. In a voice-over, Microsoft used Pig Latin to disguise its criticism of its rival and then dwelled on that to make Outlook look like the better option.

"A radio ad, for Microsoft Outlook, began with a character who stated, 'may ivatepray e-mailway isway onway ofway eirthay usinessbay'," explained the ASA.

"The voice-over then stated 'Pig Latin may be hard to understand, but you probably need it if you use Gmail, because Gmail scans every word of your emails to sell ads. But doesn't. And you can choose to opt out of personalised ads. To stop Gmail from using your e-mails, use Learn more at and keep your e-mails ivatepray'."

Catchy, snappy stuff, but it did not sit nicely with a couple of people who complained to the ASA about the ad taking liberties with the truth. It was suggested that while Microsoft did not make this clear, it scans its users' emails too.

Microsoft was called on to defend itself, and it explained that while its rival contextually scans for advertising purposes, Redmond's own scans are only prophylactic.

"Therefore, they considered that omission of this practice in the ad did not render it misleading. They also highlighted that protective scanning did not involve the collection and retention of consumer data, unlike scanning to target ads," explained the ASA.

"They said that the superiority claim in the ad was limited to scanning for ad targeting, and that the ad made no claims (whether explicit or implied) that did not use any other form of e-mail scanning."

The ASA was happy enough with all this and reckoned that Microsoft did make enough effort to show that it was talking about scanning for advertising purposes. Fans of retro Microsoft radio ads with a Scroogle theme can be assured that the radio play presumably can still be aired.

The ASA told The INQUIRER that it was two members of the public who submitted the complaints. µ


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