Preston Gralla

Has Microsoft begun a shadow campaign for Hillary Clinton?

January 14, 2014 12:22 PM EST

Hillary Clinton hasn't yet announced whether she's running for president, but there are claims that a former top advisor, now a Microsoft executive, has begun a shadow campaign for her using Microsoft's ad-and-marketing budget. Is there any validity to it, or is it a conspiracy theory gone wild?

The claims came after Sunday night's Golden Globe awards, in which Microsoft ran a minute-long ad "celebrating the heroic women of 2013" -- women such as the Pakastani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai who spoke out for the rights of women to be educated, even after surviving an assassination attempt; Antoine Tuff, who single-handedly talked a gunman at an elementary school into peacefully surrendering; Geman Chancellor Angela Merkel; Janet Yellin, the first woman to be Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, and many others. It's part of a campaign for Microsoft's Bing search engine.

Hillary Clinton wasn't mentioned in the ad. So why do some people believe it could be part of a campaign to help her get elected president? Time Magazine blogger Laura Stampler says that it's because the brains behind the ad as well as behind Microsoft's anti-Google "scroogled" campaign is Mark Penn, former top advisor to both Bill Clinton and Hilary Clinton. Penn was Clinton's most powerful advisor during her 2008 presidential run, with Politico calling him "Clinton’s pollster, chief strategist and message guru all wrapped into one."

Stampler asks in her blog whether the ad:

"...was really just a slick, subliminal and one-hundred percent free endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?"

She quotes a tweet from ad executive Liz Taylor, who wrote:

"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."

She's certainly right that the ad is inspiring. Expect to get teary-eyed watching it, and with good reason. But is it really a subliminal ad for Hilary Clinton?

The answer is no. Just because the ad focuses on celebrating inspirational women doesn't mean that there's an ulterior motive behind it, despite Penn's presence in its creation. Microsoft clearly didn't attempt to jump-start Hillary Clinton's campaign by creating it and airing it.