'Bing' Ballmer Says, 'Don't Drink That Poison Google Milk!'

Five Ways to Find Meaning in Microsoft's Branding of 'Decision Engine' Without Really Even Searching for It

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1. About that 'disease' definition ... Since next week's Advertising Age is the Global Issue, first a word about Bing's supposed connotations outside the English-speaking world. Maybe you've seen the endlessly tweeted Twitter meme, "Bing means disease in Chinese," which usually points to posts at either TechCrunch or the Brand Infection blog, both of which included an image of a "Learn Chinese" fortune-cookie slip that translates "bing" as "disease." Brand Infection asked, "Does Microsoft not research the meaning before introducing a new brand? Or will Microsoft rebrand the product in China? Or did Microsoft never intend to market it there? Or does Microsoft not care?"

SEARCH ME: Use Bing, avoid Armageddon, says Microsoft.
SEARCH ME: Use Bing, avoid Armageddon, says Microsoft.
TechCrunch, meanwhile, noted that Bing is "slightly less subtle than Microsoft's former search property, Live, spelling 'evil' backward."

But the truth is a little more complicated than a fortune-cookie language tutorial, of course. Bing defenders have been circulating -- less successfully than the "Bing means disease" meme -- quotes from an interview with Qi Lu, president of Microsoft Online Services, who told a TV news channel in Sydney, Australia, that "the actual Chinese characters are two characters -- 'Bi' and 'Ing' -- and combined, these two characters mean 'very certain to respond' and 'very certain to answer.' That's a terrific representation of what our brand stands for in the Chinese language."

2. Actually, Bing wants you to think that Google means "disease" -- or "disaster" or "downturn" or "discombobulated" -- in English. Seriously, the voice-over language in the first Bing TV spot, titled "Manifesto"? A bit nuts: "While everyone was searching, there was bailing; while everyone was lost in the links, there was collapsing," against "quick edits of panicky sellers at a stock exchange, disgraced CEOs, foreclosure signs, $4-a-gallon gas, the national debt clock in Times Square," as Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times noted -- adding that, "No, it doesn't make a lick of sense, but you have to give JWT [which created the spots for Microsoft] credit for trying to hang the financial crisis around Google's neck. Still, why stop there? Why not blame Google for swine flu, man boobs, mercury in tuna, Spencer and Heidi? Why didn't the creatives end the sequence with a white-hot flash and a glowing mushroom cloud? Too on the nose, I guess. Still, the point is made. No, wait. What was the point?"

3. In other words, this ain't no search war. Microsoft would have you believe that the launch of Bing, a "decision engine," is about introducing a better product, a meaningful alternative to horrifically flawed, overwhelming Google. You certainly know by now, from poking around Bing yourself, that it's fine, but it's no Google killer. In fact, this is no search war; it's an advertising war, pure and simple. The curious thing about this ad battle, though, is that Google doesn't advertise in any traditional sense -- and certainly not on TV. So the "Manifesto" spot and its thankfully less apocalyptic successors are being met by ... silence.

Think of it this way: Imagine you were the CEO of a massive food-service company, and you decided you wanted to take on the biggest dairy in the country, which doesn't advertise its milk because it's already most people's favorite milk brand. So you invest millions of dollars in not only developing your own milk product, but you spend one-tenth of a billion dollars on ads -- most notably, manic TV commercials -- that basically say that your competitor's milk is bad for you. In fact, possibly poison! That's what Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is doing with Bing. That's how he's chosen to take on Google.

4. Thanks to the brand positioning, Bing's begging for parody. Start typing "If Microsoft made" into Google, and it'll suggest all sorts of results that link to parodies, including "If Microsoft made the iPhone" (e.g., the still-hilarious-two-years-later YouTube video that shows a buggy, rotary-dial zunePhone in action ). Not to mention a spring Digg sensation, "If Everything Was Made by Microsoft," the results of a Cracked magazine reader competition with some great sight gags like a discarded box of Microsoft Ultra Ribbed Condoms in a trash can (a very pregnant woman looms in the background) and an animation of a Microsoft parachute in action (an error message -- "Device Not Ready: RIPCORD v2.0 cannot find PARACHUTE.exe. Please connect server and try again" -- flashes over and over as a skydiver hurtles to the ground).

Microsoft products have, of course, always been great fodder for parody. But Bing? In itself, really, it isn't a great target -- because, surprise, it's not half-bad -- but Microsoft's positioning of Bing is. Any minute now, watch for a YouTube mash-up of "Manifesto" that blames Microsoft for End Times: "While everyone was waiting for Vista to launch, there was bailing; while everyone was lost in Windows' file structure, there was collapsing..."

5. And let's not forget that fun little "Bing is an acronym" meme. It popped up on UrbanDictionary at the end of May: "Bing Is Not Google."

Which is, of course, why Microsoft needs to convince you that your life sucks because of Google.

Uh, good luck with that, Bing.

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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco

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