Two weeks ago Microsoft launched an anti-Google campaign in hopes that users would run to the email-privacy safe haven of Outlook. The ads are in the style of PSAs and petitions usually reserved for saving baby polar bears or switching from oil to solar power. You’ve been SCROOGLED! Google is the big bad business while Microsoft is your friendly neighborhood email service. Did you buy into it? Because no one else did.

What most critics dismissed as Microsoft grasping at straws could actually be an incredibly well thought out and timely campaign. The European Union brought sanctions on Google yesterday requiring them to change the exact privacy concerns brought up by Microsoft in their ads. As Google continues to get publicity as a company that reads your emails, Microsoft sits back and watches their petition’s signatures increase. Take note marketers, this is how you attack your competition.

In 2010 Google started scanning user emails to create better targeted ads. For example, Google would scan your email correspondence about adopting a puppy and place ads for dog food or pet supply stores. In the past three years this practice has been adopted by other marketers in the US and widely accepted as part of Internet life for users.

Then last March Google updated its Privacy Policy to sync all of its products together. Rather than 70 different policies, all Google products would be under one policy, and the information you give for one product could be shared among all other Google services. Congress didn’t approve, and data protection agencies in the European Union issued a warning: Google had four months to meet EU privacy standards. Those four months ended yesterday.

The European Union wants to use Google to set the national standard for Internet privacy around the world. They want the US and Asia to follow their lead in the fight for cybersecurity and aren’t afraid to make an example of Google. If Google fully complies with the regulations, they will look like their privacy needed to be updated. If they push back against the EU, they look like a seedy company that wants your private information. Their best PR bet is to let this all blow over, which will be incredibly difficult with Microsoft already running ads against their product.

If this was their plan all along Microsoft deserves marketing praise. They demonstrated that they follow their competition’s actions to a tee, look ahead for opportunities of future PR nightmares and defend their own brand and reputation. By launching the campaign before the EU sanctions, it looks like Google is proving Microsoft’s point instead of Microsoft kicking its competition when it’s down. No, I won’t be switching to Outlook, but I will doff my hat to Microsoft.

Do you think the timing was intentionally planned or a happy surprise for Microsoft?