Googlighting: Microsoft’s way of running for ‘Office’

You only had to watch the last federal election in Canada to see how effective attack ads can be. Prime Minister Stephen Harper successfully won a majority government after a barrage of commercials suggested to voters that then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who had lived outside the country for many years, was only in it for personal gain. “He didn’t come back for you,” an ominous voice warned. No wonder the tagline in the new anti-Google Microsoft ad – “Don’t trust the Googlighting stranger, ’cause he’s not on your side” – has an eerily familiar ring to it.

The choice between Microsoft Office and Google apps isn’t about leadership, however, or even brand loyalty. It’s a campaign over the only battleground that really counts: the environment in which people will create, manage, share and storage information that matters to them. If you haven’t seen it yet, “Googlighting” uses a pop culture reference that will be familiar to the many boomer who still make key decisions around productivity software (the 80s-era TV series “Moonlighting”) and features a smarmy exec trying to get hired by a manager on the basis of some overly-clever, unproven software.
Forget about whether the video is funny or not, or whether it was over-engineered to become “viral.” Will it work? You can’t really answer that before first figuring out what “working” in this case would mean. It’s hard to see many firms walking away from Google Docs on the basis of this alone. It may alter perceptions among some executives in an organization, but at how meaningful a level? Perhaps the key question: what are the underlying messages here, and how should CIOs and IT managers respond to them?

A key piece of dialogue has the Cybill Shepherd-type character asking the sales guy, “So you really think this thing is ready to rollout?

“How else are we going to know what features to keep and what to kill?” he asks.

“Hold on,” she says. “So, you’re going to change our software while we’re using it?”

“Absolutely,” he says.

This is positioned in the video as a bad thing, even though applications of all kinds in large organizations are under constant upgrades and changes as needs dictate. For that matter, users typically gnash their teeth every time something is altered in the ribbon in Microsoft Word. The core notion is that Google is not interested in running a business so much as a lab – one that would leave users in the lurch without notice. Microsoft’s campaign platform is clear: it’s running on the basis of stability, a proven track record and familiarity with users. Some may see Microsoft as the devil, but Microsoft Office is at least the devil we know.

But if Google is the stranger and Microsoft is the one “on our side,” what does that mean? Does it mean lowering the cost of running an Exchange server? Does it mean tighter or better integration with enterprise business applications? Will new features be introduced with a more seamless transition and minimal impact on everyday workflow? This is the one problem with attack ads. You spent so much time talking about your opponent won’t or can’t do that you fail to talk enough about what you can and will do. For that reason, if no other, a sequel to “Googlighting” is almost certainly coming soon to a screen near you.


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