Microsoft ad pulled by ASA

Johannesburg, 20 Mar 2003

The Advertising Standards Authority of SA (ASA) has ordered that a Microsoft ad implying that its software will bring about the extinction of the hacker is to be pulled for being "unsubstantiated and misleading".

An objection was lodged by freelance journalist Richard Clarke, in his personal capacity, who complained that the advert was untrue. He claimed Microsoft software is littered with vulnerabilities.

The advert depicts a dodo, a woolly mammoth, a sabre tooth tiger and a hacker. The caption claims that not everyone benefits from Microsoft software and that with it, a customer`s data couldn`t be safer even if it was kept in a safe. It was published in the November issues of ITWeb Brainstorm and Time Magazine.

"Microsoft`s software is littered with vulnerabilities," Clarke says in his submission.

Microsoft was asked by the ASA to provide information, substantiated by an independent, credible expert, on the degree of security of its software in accordance with Code of Advertising Practices. Microsoft was also asked to defend the advert against Clarke`s claim that the advert was misleading.

Microsoft submitted documentation to substantiate its claims about the security of the software and said the advert was not designed to mislead the consumer, but was merely a tongue in cheek dramatisation that the software would threaten the survival of hackers.

After reviewing both parties` submissions, the ASA ruled that Microsoft`s claims about the security of its software were unsubstantiated as it had not been evaluated by an independent entity. The ASA ruling said because the claim was unsubstantiated, it was therefore misleading and ordered the advert to be withdrawn.

Steyn Laubscher, Microsoft account director at Lowe Bull Advertising agency, says Microsoft is in the process of having Windows XP Professional and Windows .Net server 2003 evaluated by independent experts against the common criteria.

"Substantial information was submitted from our US office, backing up the claims. Our survey data are still in the process of being evaluated by independent experts and we informed the ASA of that. However, the ASA still ordered the ad withdrawn."

Laubscher says despite the decision, Microsoft fully maintains that its software is able to fulfil the task of keeping hackers and viruses out, making the customers` data safer than if kept in a safe.

Clarke described Microsoft`s claim as "laughable".

The advert was to be run this year in a number of broad-reaching business publications, including Business Day, the Financial Mail and Business Report.