More Griping About Advertising: Bing Edition

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

My previous rant about an advertising campaign had pretty mixed results, so let's try again. This time I want to talk about the television campaign for Microsoft's new search engine, Bing.

My problem with these ads is that they rely on one of the oldest, hoariest advertising tricks in the book: make up the disease, then sell the cure. This has been done for years; occasional bad breath became the dread disease "halitosis" in the 1930s, thanks to Listerene (which had previously been sold as, among other things, a dandruff tonic), for example. Now Microsoft is going to save us from "Search Overload Syndrome."

Now, I know they're not thinking I'm going to take this literally, that using (implied) Google is going to make me into some free-associating loon with no self-control, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. It feels like they're just trying a bit too hard to find something to gripe about. What are they suggesting? Google gives too much information? And all that information will destroy your brain?

They could have been onto something if Bing actually did anything remarkably different. I've been playing with it, trying to see if normal searches returned something profoundly more relevant, but so far I can't tell the difference. Now that I'm nice and terrified of getting Search Overload Syndrome (SOS), I'd be a fool not to be equally afraid of Bing. In fact, to be really safe, I should just start calling the reference desk at my local library and let that smug librarian risk her brain and social life with all that mind-destroying web searching.

I guess the real lesson here is that if you're going to make up a disease to scare people with, it should have at least some kind of plausibility, otherwise, who's going to be scared? It's like trying to sell a pill to keep people from getting Dutch Elm Disease; we're just not worried about it.