A grass-roots campaign orchestrated by a PR department is commonly called "astroturf." What shall we call Microsoft's embarrassing sally at Apple's successful "Switchers" campaign? Let's consider "paid testimonial."
Apple's campaign features real people, who give their names, who have switched from Windows to Macintosh. They don't look like models, they look like geeks, nerds, and ordinary folks, and they speak in their own voices. Some of them, such as Ellen Feiss, have become minor celebrities. Microsoft's campaign by contrast had all the polish of, well, a Microsoft ad campaign, as the Register pointed out.
No one expects Apple's ads to swing much market share, but perhaps Microsoft was feeling their sting. On Monday the company posted a Web page, "Confessions of a Mac to PC convert," supposedly written by a young woman who had switched from Apple to Windows XP. Her name was not given. Her picture, as Slashdot posters quickly discovered, was a stock image available for purchase from Getty's Photodisc. (Why the agency did not use an image from the competing Corbis service, owned by Bill Gates, is another mystery.)
Microsoft quickly pulled the ad page from its site (though it is still available in Google's cache), expressing "regret," according to CNET News.com, followed an investigation by that organ. Microsoft's climbdown may also have had something to do with investigative reporting by the AP's Ted Bridis, who identified the author of the Microsoft story and interviewed her. She works for the ad agency that created the campaign. Bridis found her name hidden in a Microsoft Word document associated with the ad campaign; not even Unspun needs to point out that irony. A Slashdot poster noticed that you can still download this document from its original location on the Microsoft site. At Unspun's press time this was still true.
In this season when Microsoft and AOL are touting shiny new versions of their online services to entice holiday shoppers, we leave the final word to yet another sharp-eyed Slashdot commentator. "In 1994 AOL published a slick 30-page promotional brochure profiling four new members. They also made them up." - Keith Dawson
(Ellen Feiss fan site)
MS pulls fake Mac-to-Windows testimonial
Microsoft PR Rep is the Switcher
(Photodisc/Getty stock photo from the ad)
(Cached copy of Microsoft ad)
Microsoft "regrets" Mac-to-PC ad
Microsoft zaps Mac attack ad; Shoreline woman is mystery convert (Seattle Times, AP)
(Download the ad's feedback form in Word format)
AOL and MSN at It Again With Dueling Launches (Reuters)
AOL Lies: New Member Guide (1994)