Microsoft Discovers, Belatedly, That Vomiting May Offend Customers

By  |  Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 11:37 am

Oh My God I'm Going to PukeThe Wall Street Journal is reporting that Microsoft has pulled the online ad for Internet Explorer that showed a woman puking after viewing her husband’s apparently-disgustingly-pornographic browser history. The Journal quotes a Microsoft spokeswoman as saying that “While much of the feedback to this particular piece of creative was positive, some of our customers found it offensive, so we have removed it.” People offended by a browser commercial involving onscreen vomiting? Imagine that!

Me, I nominated the ad as a strong candidate for the honor of being the worst tech commercial in history. Lots of folks agreed with me; many said they liked it. It would be a boring world if everybody agreed on this stuff.

I assume Microsoft had an inkling that some people might feel…well, queasy…at the sight of the ad before it gave the spot the OK, and decided to run it anyhow. It’s certainly possible to do effective advertising that evokes strong reactions and doesn’t appeal to everybody. But maybe one of the lessons here is that it’s not a great idea to do so for a product with a customer base as huge and diffuse as the world’s most widely-used Web browser. Some products have the luxury of offending people they weren’t trying to cater to in the first place, but IE, by definition, is trying to cater to most everybody. (There’s a reason why you don’t see people retching in ads for, say, gasoline. Or paper towels.)

Of course, conspiracy theorists may wonder whether Microsoft’s game plan all along was to release a revolting ad that appealed to some people, get (ahem) bloggers to write about it, catch flack for it, and then withdraw it…

One more thought on why I didn’t like the ad, and then I promise I’ll stop: I’m not instinctively opposed to gross humor. I might have even liked the basic idea if it had been a scene in a well-directed, funny movie. (Hey, I’m a Monty Python fan.) But as a consumer, I regard advertising as a company attempting to initiate a business transaction with me. And so I react better to ads with a certain level of decorum and respect than ones that try to gross me out. (The bar isn’t that high–some people seem more creeped out by the other, vomitless ads in the series than I was.)

That’s just me; multiple reasonable commenters feel otherwise. But it’s fascinating to see how Microsoft had to get real-world feedback before they figured all this out.

[UPDATE: Peter Kafka of All Things D reports that the IE 8 ads were directed by Bobcat “Shakes the Clown” Goldthwait. That explains a lot right there…]


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