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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

Microsoft Can't Even Be Original When It Illegally Advertises
October 25th, 2002

In April and May of 2001, IBM launched a campaign that I personally found to be reprehensible. The company paid guerilla marketing companies to deface sidewalks and other public property with advertisements for its Linux campaign. "Peace, Love, and Linux," was the name of the campaign, and this was symbolized by chalk art and other forms of sidewalk art with a peace symbol, a heart, and Tux, the Linux penguin mascot (we lampooned this campaign in a Reality Check cartoon last year).

My problem with that campaign is that IBM was using public resources for its own profit, without permits from the cities they attacked, and without compensating the cities or the public for doing so. It's unethical, and immoral, in my never humble opinion, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that Microsoft has ripped off the idea to promote its MSN service. Microsoft can't even be original when it pursues an illegal advertising campaign. That's really sad.

The New York Times reported today that Microsoft had been busted by New York City officials who were not at all pleased with decals of the MSN butterfly that had been placed on many of the Big Apple's public sidewalks, lamp posts, and other public areas. Sound familiar? From the New York Times:

They settled yesterday morning on sidewalks and doorways; traffic signals, stop signs and planters. They alighted on the bluestone paving around Grand Army Plaza and the granite corners around Grand Central Terminal.

Their blue, green, orange and yellow wings had spans of 12 to 20 inches, the larger ones accompanied by a caption — "It's better with the Butterfly" — advertising Microsoft's new MSN 8 Internet service.

"This is nothing more than corporate graffiti," said Vanessa Gruen, director of special projects for the Municipal Art Society, a civic organization that has long battled commercialization of public space. "It's no better than all those kids out there tagging subway cars."

And no more legal, city officials said.

"We intend to hold your firm directly responsible for this illegal, irresponsible and dangerous defacing of public property," wrote Cesar A. Fernandez, assistant counsel of the Transportation Department, in a letter sent yesterday to the Microsoft Corporation.

His letter instructed Microsoft to remove the decals from city property immediately and warned that further placement might lead to "legal proceedings which may include, but not be limited to, a request for injunctive relief and additional monetary damages; and criminal prosecution."

The story also says that Microsoft claimed to have permits for its actions, though company spokespersons declined to back that up. This came just two days after Nike got in trouble for a similar stunt in New York City, though the shoe company glued its decals; Microsoft's butterfly decals were of the peelable type, making them easy to remove.

That doesn't make it right, however. IBM eventually paid to have its sidewalk art removed, and Microsoft's advertising agency in charge of the campaign was apparently in the process of removing its decals, but illegally using public resources for profit is not right. Paying to have it fixed later doesn't make it right. Microsoft, like IBM and Nike before it should be ashamed of itself.

The biggest thing that makes me shake my head at this absurdity is the irony of how even when Microsoft does such a "daring" thing as public vandalism, it is still copying those that came before it.

You can find more in the full story from the New York Times.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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