Take a quick tour around browser vendors' websites and you'll see them appealing to potential users with words like "passion", "difference", "speed" and "extensible". It's typical happy fluffy marketing speak.
Then there is Microsoft. The Internet Explorer 8 home page itself sprouts the usual marketing talk, but there is a promotion for browserforthebetter.com, a site where the gist is that if you download IE8, eight hungry Americans get a meal.
It's a good cause, it's a good idea — yet something didn't sit quite well with me. In retrospect it was the thought that I wasn't going to download and use IE8 anyway (especially as I have a Mac); yet I felt incredibly guilty not downloading IE8. I was faced with a choice: leave the page and have someone go hungry, or download a program I can't and will never run.
In the hopes that these donations are being based on download count and not on IE8 phoning home, I downloaded the file and then deleted it.
The whole experience felt dirty and wrong. I was being morally bribed into downloading an internet browser. The value pitch of the browser wasn't in improving an experience, it was emotionally blackmailing me and sending me on a guilt trip. But I couldn't put a finger on exactly what it was, it was like in The Castle and "the vibe".
Then I saw this argument on Twitter from a Microsoft employee: "Using FF or Chrome on Windows takes eight meals away from the needy."
Not the best way to express your company's message.
(Credit: Chris Duckett/ZDNet.com.au)
That comment snapped me from blackmailed to outraged. Read between the lines there and Microsoft is trying to tell the world that using a non-Microsoft browser is responsible for the ills of the world. It's not a good look, and does not reflect very well on Redmond at all.
With guilt-ridden blackmail taken care of, yesterday Microsoft moved to bribery and insults. Essentially a contest for US$10,000, the idea undoes itself with phrases such as "We've buried $10,000 somewhere on the internet ... you'll never find it using boring Safari. (So get rid of it, or get lost.)"
I chose to "get lost" and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of closing the browser tab. The readers over at Gizmodo came up with a list of insults for all the other browsers and state that overriding the user-agent string in the browser will fake the page out.
Taking another look at these experiences with IE8 promotions, they are both at their core, good ideas. Feeding the needy and giving users a chance to win cash are great ways to promote a product, but while the idea is fine, the execution is sorely lacking.
The contest is another attempt at Microsoft trying to look modern and talk to the cool kids, but failing abysmally and just making it harder for itself next time. There is being edgy, and then there is just plain insulting.
Similarly for the browserforthebetter site, it was simply distasteful and could have been done very successfully in a much better way. Microsoft's marketing department really needs to wake up to itself or get lost.