Microsoft is selling Scroogled gear. From The Verge:

Microsoft’s anti-Google “Scroogled” campaign has been quietly attempting to convince consumers to avoid Google services for the past few months, but it’s back today with a vengeance. Microsoft has dedicated an entire section of its online store to selling anti-Google mugs, hats, t-shirts, and hoodies. The prices vary, but for $7.99 you can pick up a mug that advises you to “keep calm while we steal your data.” It’s a surprisingly brazen approach from Microsoft just in time for the holidays, and another direct and odd attack at Google.

The thinking behind Scroogled is actually quite sound; Gmail, the primary target of the campaign, passed Hotmail last year, and Google’s services are not only beating Microsoft’s competing products, but, more critically, are funding free products like Android that are destroying Microsoft’s business model. It’s certainly a legitimate target.

Moreover, it’s a message that ought to resonate, at least with geeks. There’s no question Google is neck deep in our data, and email in particular feels more sacred than a Facebook post or tweet. And yet, Scroogled comes across as simply pathetic.

I think the campaign misses the mark for a few different reasons:

  • The entire campaign is remarkably cheesy and over-the-top. Enough said.
  • The campaign focuses on (and earlier, Bing Shopping) as the alternative. The problem is that is also supported by, you guessed it, ads! Sure, maybe it’s not based on the specific text of an email, but the distinction is drawn far too finely.
  • Microsoft is attacking with zero credibility. Beyond the fact they are pitching another ad-driven property, they are also getting signal from Windows 8.1 search, and even showing ads in Windows’ preinstalled apps.

It would be far better if Microsoft were to not attack Google specifically, but instead the very idea of “free.” Make no mistake: free will always be an effective business model for consumer services, for both sociological as well as technical reasons. Dr. Drang had an excellent post about this a few months back entitled Free:

The thing is, this sinister, creepy approach works, and it benefits us, too. A social network that isn’t free won’t have a huge number of users and won’t have everyone you know on it. A search engine that isn’t free wouldn’t be used much and wouldn’t be able to leverage the data collected on an astronomical number of searches. And it’s the same for maps.

Still, there are tradeoffs, and Microsoft ought to highlight them while offering a rock-solid suite of paid services as an alternative. Imaging a campaign that went something like this:

We all love free, but everything has a price. In the case of Gmail, that price is your privacy. Everything you do is tracked and sold to the highest bidder.

We believe in privacy, and in selling a great product for an honest price. For $10 a month, you can have best-in-class email, Office on your PC, tablet, and phone, and the peace-of-mind in knowing that you are paying for the tools that handle your most important information instead of a creepy marketer trying to sell you snake oil.

Of course, to land that ad, Microsoft would have to actually deliver said services. Email is there – Office 365 Exchange is great – but Office on the iPad is a glaring absence.

I don’t know if this approach would work. There is an increasing body of evidence that consumers will never pay for services, at least at the scale needed by Microsoft. But there’s equally little evidence that Microsoft is getting anywhere in their attempts to compete with Google head-on. Moreover, this strategy has the benefit of aligning much more closely to Microsoft’s culture and traditional business model.

And, it’s not lame. That must count for something