The chief marketing officers of Procter & Gamble, Walmart, Ford, Verizon, Coca Cola, Unilever, General Electric, American Express, Kraft, and 30 other companies signed a letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, complaining about the “do not track” (DNT) function planned for Internet Explorer 10.
IE10 will launch with a default DNT position, preventing consumers from being targeted by advertisers. Those advertisers spend $2.8 billion a year via Microsoft. The letter was timed to rain on Microsoft’s parade at Advertising Week, at which it launched new native ad products for Windows 8 and a redesigned MSN.
It is rare for advertisers to publicly criticize the media sellers they deal with. It’s rarer still for them to time their criticism to inflict maximum PR damage. And it’s rarest of all, for them to band together — even with competitors — and sign a statement against a marketing partner that takes billions of their dollars.
The letter is thus the most humiliating form of public dressing-down Microsoft could have received from its clients. It also appears to be, in part, a response to an August blog post by Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch, which effectively told advertisers to drop dead.
The advertisers’ letter says:
… Microsoft’s announcement has been uniformly met with outrage, opposition, and declarations that Microsoft’s action is wrong. The entire media ecosystem has condemned this action. The Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, after an initially supportive response to Microsoft’s announcement, released a statement expressing his belief that the right standard is a default of “off” for “do-not-track,” recognizing the harm to consumers that Microsoft’s decision could create.
Apache, a provider of software that supports nearly two-thirds of Internet web site offerings, has designed its software to ignore the “do-not-track” setting if the browser reaching it is Internet Explorer 10, describing Microsoft’s actions as a “deliberate abuse of open standards” developed by a standard setting organization to recognize a default “off.”
The subtext: No tracking data, no ad dollars. (For context, Microsoft’s advertising division loses $8.1 billion a year, which tells you why the browser division’s decisions take priority over the ad division’s clients.)
Ad Age reported that Microsoft advertising chief Rik van der Kooi indicated Microsoft may be shifting back toward the ad business’ position. He said Windows 8 would contain a setup prompt asking them to choose whether they want to be tracked or not. That’s significant, because a default DNT position doesn’t require such a choice.