Did a story in This is True ridiculing an announced new product from Microsoft result in its cancellation? Let’s look at the evidence, starting with the story that appeared in True’s 11 May 2003 issue:
Flushed with Pride
Microsoft has unveiled its newest innovation: the iLoo. The self-contained port-a-potty includes a waterproof keyboard and screen so that a seated …um… user can get on the Internet. Possible add-ons include a keyboard and screen outside the door, so the first person in the queue will have something to do while waiting. The company also says it is also in talks with toilet-paper manufacturers to get special rolls printed with addresses of interesting web sites. “The Internet’s so much a part of everyday life now that surfing on the loo was the next natural step,” said marketing manager Tracy Blacher. “It’s exciting to think that the smallest room can now be the gateway to the massive virtual world.” (Seattle Post Intelligencer) …Suggested slogan: “When you think of crap, think Microsoft.”
Microsoft even released a diagram of its WWWC showing how the port-a-public-access-point would be configured.
The Ewww Factor
The “Wireless keyboard can be used on lap,” the graphic points out. Yeah, terrific: would you want to touch a wireless keyboard that who-knows-how-many people had on their laps …when their pants were down?! You can forget “I got a social disease from a toilet seat” since “I got a social disease from a public Internet kiosk” is a much more modern excuse!
It notes at the bottom, “Festivalgoers in Britain this summer will be able to try out Microsoft’s Internet-enabled portable toilet.” The Associated Press reported that was “perhaps [the] Glastonbury” festival, a mostly-annual performing arts festival that takes place near Pilton, Somerset, England, which is best known for its contemporary music.
The project was announced by Microsoft’s MSN UK division on April 30, 2003, and the story I used as a source appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer on May 6; happily, the story is still online, here.
Microsoft: Mightily Confused
As noted above, my report first appeared in True on May 11. The story was also covered by the Associated Press, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal, among others.
The very next day — late on May 12 — Microsoft headquarters issued a press release calling the announcement a hoax: “This iLoo release came out of the UK office and was not a Microsoft sanctioned communication and we apologize for any confusion or offense it may have caused,” Microsoft spokeswoman Bridgitt Arnold said in a horribly run-on sentence.
That caused quite some consternation with the MSN UK’s public relations agency, Waggener Edstrom. The company’s Malina Bragg confirmed it was a real project.
The next day, Microsoft retracted the “hoax” angle with another press release: “We jumped the gun basically yesterday in confirming that it was a hoax, and in fact it was not,” said MSN group product manager Lisa Gurry. “Definitely, we’re going to be taking a good look at our communication processes internally.”
In any case, Microsoft said in the second press release, the project has definitely been canceled by MSN senior vice president David Cole. Gurry explained the project “didn’t really map to our global branding objectives.”
CNN Money called the debacle one of the top Dumbest Business Moments of 2003.
I find the timing delicious. Might This is True’s ridicule had something to do with the project being canceled? I don’t know, but I certainly hope so!
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