During a commercial break for the 2014 Golden Globes, Microsoft aired a minute-long ode to the heroic women of 2013 to drum up attention for its search engine Bing. Sure, on a night hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the ad could have been seen as a savvy embrace of influential women. Or it could have been read as a reach for the kind of pro-women message that has caught fire for companies like Dove and P&G.
But given that the technology company employs Mark Penn, the erstwhile image-maker for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, to run its new aggressive advertising strategy, the campaign offered up another, more intriguing possibility: Could it be that the ad — touting leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Gabrielle Giffords, Angela Merkel, and Janet Yellen — was really just a slick, subliminal and one-hundred percent free endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?
Ad execs and political pundits wondered as much online Sunday night:
If we're being honest, these Microsoft Bing ads should be followed with a "Vote for Hillary" end card. That said, they're still inspiring.—
Liz Taylor (@lizsayz) January 13, 2014
Penn masterminded Hillary Clinton’s infamous “3 a.m. phone call” ad which drew blood from the rival Obama campaign in 2008. He’s brought his brand of negative advertising to the technology giant as it battles both Apple and Google. In one spot, Microsoft used Siri’s own voice to badmouth the iPad. Another series of ads coined the term “Scroogled.”
But Bing’s heroic women spot accentuates the positive, and it matches the pitch of Clinton’s shadow campaign. (The spot premiered on New Year’s Eve but probably had its biggest audience yet with the 17.6 million people who tuned into the Golden Globes.)
A spokesperson for Microsoft said that there’s no connection between the ad campaign and a possible Clinton presidential campaign.
Given his sharp-elbowed reputation and the failure of Clinton’s campaign in 2008, there has been much speculation over whether Penn would leave Microsoft to join Clinton for another possible presidential run. The ad man recently told Politico, “I’m all in with Microsoft as their executive vice president of global advertising and strategy and enjoying meeting new challenges there.” Although the piece noted, “Rumors swirled among Washington operatives in the fall that Penn might be back as an important adviser to Clinton. He is said to still speak with the Clintons but is currently focused on corporate work.”
The new spot shows that Penn might not have to choose between Microsoft and Clinton after all.