Google takes on Microsoft in ad campaign

Google launched an advertising campaign on Monday in an effort to lure business customers off Microsoft Office and on to Google Apps, the latest move in an escalating multi-front war between the two companies.

Google’s marketing campaign involves billboards along the main freeways in four US cities – San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston – and banner ads on technology news websites such as TechCrunch.

The billboards will display a new message every day for a month, telling the story of an IT manager who learns about Google Apps and eventually makes the switch. Google is also encouraging employees to lobby their IT departments and promote Google Apps in their workplaces.

The campaign is an anomaly for Google, a cautious media buyer. In May, it also ventured into self-promotion, with television ads for its internet browser, Chrome.

Google Apps offer much of the same functionality as Microsoft Office but at a lower cost. However, in spite of what it touts as a superior user experience, Google has failed to win a meaningful share of the applications market.

Paying customers for the premium version of Google Apps number fewer than 1m, though the company claims to have more than 15m users of its free suite of applications. Microsoft, by contrast, says about 500m people use Office on their PCs, although half use pirated copies.

Plans by Google to make its Apps more widely used were further complicated last month, when Microsoft announced plans for a free online version of Office, to be launched next year.

Microsoft recently launched its own ad campaign directed at Google. Since the launch of its new search engine, Bing, in June, Microsoft has been running ads suggesting Bing returns more relevant results than Google.

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