"This is more than just an ad, this is a fully realized advocacy campaign," LaMotte said.
Those kinds of campaigns, often run by environmentalists and groups that advocate changes to state and federal constitutions, are characterized not only by advertising, but also by partisan-funded research and grassroots components like petitions.
Don't Get Scroogled by Gmail has all those elements, said LaMotte. "This is far more than just an advertising campaign in the way they're mimicking traditional advocacy," he said.
For the anti-Gmail campaign, Microsoft updated its Scroogled website, ran ads, and urged users to sign an e-petition to "tell Google to stop going through your emails to sell ads." As of Feb. 19, the petition had collected about 38% of the Microsoft-set goal of 25,000 signatures.
Microsoft also commissioned, then cited, a survey that claimed 88% of the 1,000 Americans polled disapproved of email providers scanning messages for ad targeting purposes, and that 89% of those same people felt email services should not be allowed to conduct the practice.
Rather than use Gmail, Microsoft urged people to try Outlook.com, its rebooted, rebranded online email service that launched last July and departed beta today.
Advocacy campaigns are traditionally used to influence opinion about political issues, not technology, LaMotte noted as he put the Scroogled effort into a broader context. "Taking a look from the advocacy aspect, the view is that Washington is now influencing Madison Avenue. Earlier, it was thought that when it comes to elections, Madison Avenue knows how to win hearts and minds. It'll be interesting to see if it works in the other direction."
Scroogled's reliance on an advocacy approach may not be the first for a tech company, but Microsoft's campaign is certainly at a new level, LaMotte said. "It could be more of a timing, cultural move, coming off a [presidential] campaign year, where we saw [advocacy] campaigns like this for the last 16 months," he added, trying to explain why Microsoft went with the strategy.
Google has not directly responded to the Scroogled campaign with one of its own, negative or otherwise, but Gottheil said the search company would -- at some point.
"I expect a response, but I think it makes sense for Google to plan it strategically," said Gottheil. "The company should address the privacy/advertising issue; it's always out there. [But] I don't think Google wants to get into criticizing Outlook beyond its established [total cost of ownership] argument. That's powerful enough, and people know what's wrong with Outlook."
Google has effectively marketed Gmail, Gottheil continued, with its user-based viral approach because of what he said was "enterprise-quality web-based communication and collaboration." It will continue to win hearts, minds and users even if does nothing.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.