Microsoft’s Outlook Ad Gamble

person angry at their computer

If you use the Outlook app regularly to check your email, you may have noticed the recent addition of ads. It’s also quite possible you haven’t noticed them – the ads are (some would say insidiously) nestled in among your emails with only the word “ad” in a small box to differentiate them from your actual correspondence. 

Microsoft is taking to heart an important rule in advertising: put your offer where your customers spend their time. Anyone can send a marketing email, but it could be blocked by a spam filter or easily ignored. Managers of email platforms have a unique opportunity to place unavoidable ads in front of their users’ eyes. Additionally, the analytics potential is significant given that these platform owners have unlimited access to user activity info. 

When Marketing Becomes Too Effective 

This raises an interesting question: how should marketing platforms balance placing lucrative ads with the risk of alienating their users? 

Since the new ad program, Outlook users have loudly expressed their distaste, with many stating their intent to move to another app. Whether a significant proportion of users will actually make the switch is questionable; negative feedback to the ads was surely expected. 

Microsoft has responded to criticism by pointing out that those with a Microsoft 365 membership ($6.99 monthly, $69.99 yearly) can enjoy an ad-free mailbox with “less [sic] distractions and… faster page load times.” That reasoning won’t placate inflamed users, some of whom have enjoyed ad-free mailboxes since the late ‘90s. 

Why the Rage at Outlook? 

Of course, Microsoft isn’t uniquely devious. Gmail has featured identical ad placements for some time now. It’s difficult to say why the anger is directed disproportionately at Outlook; perhaps users felt they were using a more neutral program than that created by Google, a primarily ad-serving & data-gathering business. 

Unfortunately for these irate users, there don’t seem to be any widely used alternative email platforms without ads anymore. Microsoft Outlook was the exception.

The Dangers of Ad Saturation

I raise this topic not to pass judgment on Microsoft’s decision, but to provide a case study for businesses with the capability to saturate their users in ads. In the case of Outlook, this perceived betrayal might still increase overall ad revenue. However, be aware that there is a point at which your customers (or potential customers) will become so frustrated that your advertising will be doing more harm than good. 

When spinning up your advertising campaign, consider how easily your audience can avoid your ad. It’s easy to look away from a billboard or scroll past a Facebook post, but a bit more aggravating to be stuck with a long pre-roll ad before a video. 

The effectiveness of your campaign cannot exceed the frustration you’re causing your audience by placing it in front of them. An ad that gives a negative impression of your business is far worse than no ad at all. 

If your ad campaigns could use expert oversight, get in touch for a free consultation.

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