HuffPost called it "when product placement goes wrong." Bloomberg called it "a curious cameo." Slashgear said it "makes us giggle." Another declared it Spider-Man fans' biggest gripe.
But more than anything, Bing's product placement in the new #1 movie at the box office, The Amazing Spider-Man, is turning out to be an amazing missed opportunity for Microsoft to defend itself and its search engine.
The core of complaints against Bing's placement in the Spider-Man reboot is that Peter Parker would never turn to Bing because he is a "science nerd." Not that many publications pointing out the impossibility of Parker's Bing use were specific about exactly what makes Bing such a laughable possibility.
Slashgear simply sneered, "There’s no way a skateboarding super-smart young adult scientist like Peter Parker would use Bing unless he had to." Why? They take it as a given. Meanwhile, over at movie blog The Coming Zombie Apocalypse: "Never in a million years will I accept the fact that anyone under the age of 35, much less a science nerd, would use Bing as a search engine." Again, no reason given. This ought to worry Microsoft.
Piling on, another reviewer over at Letterboxd exclaimed, "Peter Parker, a science-loving nerd, uses Bing as his default search engine? He's a nerd! Nerds don't use Bing. Nobody uses Bing!"
In fact, the only reason even suggested that Peter Parker would never use Bing is, it seems, is that nobody thinks Peter Parker — or any geek worth his or her pocket protector — would use Bing.
In April, Experian Hitwise reported that Bing claimed 30.01 percent of all searches (primarily through its Yahoo! partnership). Moreover, from March to April of 2012, Bing.com searches increased 6 percent, which Google searches fell 3 percent.
Bing is certainly no Google, but Bing is taking a PR beating for its connection to Spider-Man when the brand should be using all that attention to correct misconceptions.
A comprehensive communication plan could respond to claims with specific reasons as to why, yes, an against-the-grain in-the-know superhero like Peter Parker might just use Bing. By engaging the criticism, Bing has the opportunity to highlight and turn the table, starting a discussion about the differing characteristics of its product, and compel writers, bloggers and journalists to "teach the controversy."
Really, what's the worst that could happen from Microsoft throwing itself into this debate and defending itself? That Bing would be mocked on the blogs that already mock it?
Instead, it seems Microsoft is willing to let its product placement be a punching bag for unsubstantiated free publicity and brand development for Google. In fact, their worst possible outcome is now coming true in that the criticism of Bing's placement has given Google invaluable amounts of free advertising as the brand Spider-Man should use. Ironically, Bing would actually have been better off if it never appeared in the movie at all.
Microsoft would be wise to re-examine its strategy in this regard if it is going to continue to wade deeper into product placement. In the upcoming remake of iconic sci-fi story Total Recall, Microsoft has already been identified as a major marketing partner. Maybe the reboot will afford the brand a chance to reboot its approach.
This Spidey's other branded product placement rankling viewers is the film's constant showcasing of Sony-branded devices (with nary an iPhone or other tech brand in sight). The Amazing Spider-Man is so rife with Sony products that it depicts a fantasy world that's more jarring to viewers than believing a man can sling webs, Bloomberg argues:
Throughout the film, which takes place in current day Manhattan, the protagonist uses a Sony Xperia smartphone, which runs Google Android, to make calls to his girlfriend, check voicemail, listen to a police-radio scanner and play a game shooting colored bubbles while lounging on a spider web. When Spider-Man hangs a thug from an overpass, a spectator records video with an Xperia phone. And when two students watch an online video of Spider-Man’s antics, they do so using a Sony Tablet S.
“Spider-Man” is one of the biggest examples of how Sony, which distributed the movie through a subsidiary, plans to use its media assets to promote its own electronics products. Even the bad guy uses a Sony Vaio laptop connected to a Sony monitor in his underground laboratory, while recording his experiments with a Sony Handycam camcorder.
“The real value for us is being able to reach an entire audience of entertainment enthusiasts who connect with these films, TV shows, music — whatever it may be — while ultimately bringing it back to the device,” Peter Farmer, a Sony Mobile marketing vice president, said in an e-mailed statement.
Sony’s phones stick out in the movie partly because of how nonexistent they are in the real world. Sony accounted for 0.7 percent of all mobile phones sold in the U.S. between March and May and 0.4 percent of smartphones, according to research firm ComScore.
Sony telegraphed this approach in its new Spider-Man-themed campaign (watch below) for the Sony Xperia smartphone, and is an old hand at sprinkling its tech products throughout its movies. But at what expense to the credibility of both?
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