“Find a bad guy you can beat up in the stairwell.” That’s the main takeaway from a LinkedIn post I read recently on marketing. The post explained how big brands engage in witty ads to poke fun at competitors and try and make memorable marketing campaigns for consumers. Think of the back and forth between McDonalds and Burger King, BMW and Mercedes, and Coke and Pepsi.
Burgers, cars, and soda aren’t the only ones using the “beat up the bully” marketing strategy on their competitors. Big technology giants are using it, too. Politico reported that Google and the Computer and Communications Industry Association released a new study last week pointing the monopolistic finger at Microsoft.
The study finds that Microsoft holds an 85 percent share of the office productivity software market within the federal government. The tediously named “Monoculture and Market Share: The State of Communications and Collaboration Software in the US Government” says that Microsoft’s dominant adoption by government agencies hurts innovation, competition, and national security. Google’s claims do have some truth.
Hackers hired by China had access to Microsoft Exchange, the popular email software program, before the company fixed the bugs and shared the information publicly earlier this year. NPR said hackers secretly monitored Exchange servers belonging to “small businesses, local and state governments, and some military contractors.”
Google’s claims are their attempts at beating up a “bad” guy. Instead of launching a slick advertising campaign, Google is using public relations to try and deflect the pressure on them and drive “big tech” outrage among the public and Congress toward a competitor.
Google has been a regular “guest” at congressional antitrust hearings with Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. The Mountain View, California, based search engine giant is also the subject of multiple anti-trust investigation and lawsuits between the U.S. Department of Justice, individual states, the European Union, and India.
But Microsoft is dodging Big Tech scrutiny. They have been largely absent from most antitrust hearings. Their only federal controversary to date is the legal fight with Amazon over winning the “JEDI” (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure) contract with the Department of Defense for cloud computing services at the Pentagon. The JEDI contract, worth $10 billion, was later canceled.
Facebook fared better than Google with two lawsuits recently thrown out, but the Federal Trade Commission filed another lawsuit last month over Facebook’s purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp. Amazon and Apple are in the crosshairs of regulators and federal lawmakers, too.
I have two theories about why Microsoft has so far been immune from Big Tech scrutiny.
One, there is no public outcry. Microsoft’s products and business model are focused on work productivity, business software, and cloud storage. Frankly, it’s not as flashy or eye-popping as other Big Tech companies. Microsoft’s more technical line of work shields them from the same scrutiny as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon.
Second, despite Google’s attempt to, as the kids say, “throw shade” at Microsoft, the company may be too well ingrained with federal contracts and software to draw negative attention or scrutiny.
There is an old saying about the outdoors: “You don’t have to outrun the bear; you only have to be faster than the people around you.”
Big Tech is in a similar situation now: running from a bear, whether it be Congress, regulators, attorneys general, or the public. The way things are trending, it seems clear that one of the Big Tech companies will be broken up by the federal government under an antitrust investigation. But chances are that Microsoft, like in 1998, will emerge from the “post-Big Tech backlash” in one piece.
Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager for PRI.