October 15th 2002
By Mike Flaminio
In the world of public relations, a PR blunder can be a funny thing, at least as long as it happens to the other guy. Microsoft Monday fired back at Apple's switch ads with an testimonial Internet ad of its own. The ad describes in detail how a long-time Mac user easily switched to a PC running Windows XP. The article did not state a name, but did include a picture and a few personal details.
The flack started flying on slashdot when a member recognized the photo from a stock art image available for $49.95 at GettyImages. The image was flipped using a photo editing program, but that didn't keep Microsoft's secret.
Things went down hill from there.
An AP writer caught wind of the hubbub and started to investigate into the article. The Microsoft article lists a Word and PDF file which can be downloaded and used to submit your own reverse switch story, similar to Apple. The Word document, however, contained a few hidden notes, which included a name and company. Long lamented by privacy advocates, Microsoft's Word documents contain personal information about the author's Word registration information. The notes hidden in the document listed a name of a women who works for a Microsoft PR firm, and as it turns out, she is the mysterious unknown author of the "switch" testimonial.
Microsoft has now removed the ad from its Web site, however, a cached version is still available at Google.
This is clearly an attempt at deception. This is marketing at its worst -- positioning something as real when it's fake as Astroturf. Regular readers know I don't often beat up on Microsoft, but this is a PR blunder of titanic proportions. Not only is the author anonymous, unlike Apple's Switch ads, they further misrepresent the author by using a common stock image. You'd think a multi-billion dollar company could at least spring for spokesperson/model. If that doesn't crumble all credibility from the "testimonial," it gets worse. Finally we find out the individual is on Microsoft's "payroll" through one of its PR firms. The AP article seems to indicate that she works for the same firm that actually made the ad.
What could possible come next out of Redmond? It makes you wonder what else has gone on that no one has yet caught.