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'iLoo' Internet Toilet - Hoax or Not?

Marketing fiasco has MSN executives flushing


Is there no such thing as bad publicity?  We may soon find out once and for all, as software giant Microsoft Corporation seems bound and determined to put the old saw to the test, repeatedly.

Nine days after the company's U.K. division soberly announced plans to test a new product called "iLoo" — a portable lavatory equipped with broadband access, wireless keyboard and flat-screen monitor for the surfing convenience of outdoor festival-goers — a Microsoft spokesperson in Redmond, Washington dismissed the announcement as a prank.

"I can confirm it was an April Fool's joke," Nouri Bernard Hasan told CNET News.com on May 11. He didn't offer an explanation as to why the company waited a month and a day to pull our legs.

No matter. Forty-eight hours later, a fresh bevy of Microsoft representatives reversed Hasan's pronouncement, insisting the iLoo hadn't been a hoax after all. Even so, they explained to reporters, the fabled wired portapotty would probably never see the light of day because top executives had decided, in the wake of all the negative publicity, to scrap the project indefinitely.

So, what's the straight poop?  As best I can glean from the flurry of conflicting statements and press releases, the iLoo was indeed a real product under development at MSN U.K., though it was intended more for marketing purposes — namely, expanding consumer awareness and acceptance of universal broadband access — than for mass distribution. It wasn't as if anyone really expected toilet-based Web surfing to become the Next Big Thing — least of all Microsoft's high mucky-mucks stateside, who apparently had no idea the project even existed until press clippings began piling up in their cubicles.

Imagine you're a Microsoft executive sipping your morning latte over headlines like, "Microsoft's Gone Potty," "Microsoft Goes to the Toilet" and "MSN Goes Down the Pan."  It has to be a joke, right? Emails shoot back and forth across the Atlantic. "Sorry, it was a joke," you proclaim to the world.

Wouldn't you know it, you've spoken too soon. Another spate of emailing ensues, following which you swallow your pride and admit to reporters, "We jumped the gun basically yesterday in confirming that it was a hoax, and in fact it was not. Definitely, we're going to be taking a good look at our communication processes internally."

Well, better late than never. Meanwhile, the iLoo's fate has been sealed. After determining it "wasn't the best extension of our brand" — i.e., we refuse to sit still and be made a laughingstock over this — Redmond did decide to cancel the project. Or, as spun by MSN U.K. in its own version of events, "The attention the story generated has made us sure that the concept is valid, however there was some misunderstanding about the context of the initiative along the way and therefore it will not be built."

Now imagine you're a Microsoft executive sipping your morning latte over headlines like, "iLoo Idea Full of Poop" and "Bill Gates Is Laughing All the Way to the Loo."

Now flip to the stock prices.

It's a bittersweet feeling, isn't it?

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