Was there really an Opera billboard outside Microsoft main campus?

In an interview with the Seattle Times, Rod Hamlin of Opera Software claimed,

We put a big red billboard out by Microsoft last year that said, "Want to be a real Internet explorer? www.opera.com." We got some interesting feedback on that. All of the AT&T executives could see it and all the Microsoft guys driving back home past Marymoor Park.

Okay, so where was this billboard? He says it was near Marymoor Park, and that it could be seen from AT&T executive offices, which makes sense so far because AT&T Wireless has offices in the Redmond Town Center business and shopping center, which lies right across the highway from the park.

But then things fall apart. First of all, there is no billboard stand anywhere along the stretch of highway that goes between Marymoor Park and Redmond Town Center.

Second, if you go to the regulations governing highway advertising in the State of Washington [easier-to-read PDF version], section 47.42.040 describes the types of signs allowed, and the alleged Opera billboard does not appear to be any of permissible types. (The closest match would be 47.42.040(4), if Opera had offices within twelve miles of Redmond Town Center.)

Third, you'd think there'd be plenty of pictures of an advertising campaign this cheeky. But I haven't been able to find any online. POIDH.

Here's an actual cheeky prank (and the response). The Internet Explorer team since learned their lesson, and now they send congratulatory cake.

Stop the presses: A colleague of mine says that he saw the sign. But it wasn't a billboard. Actually, it wasn't even a sign. It was a sponsorship banner hung on the fence of one of the sports fields at Marymoor Park, the sort of sign that more traditionally might read Bob's Auto Repair proudly supports youth sports. Go Mustangs!) I asked him why he didn't take a picture. "I guess we've all become pretty jaded. Either that or everybody figured somebody else would take a picture (so then nobody did)."

After our conversation, he went and took a picture.

Comments (17)
  1. Medinoc says:

    This reminds me of the "XBOX 360 ♥ You" houseboat at the laughably deserted French PS3 launch party…

  2. Leo Davidson says:

    Maybe it's because I'm in the UK but that Bing Maps link just takes me to a zoomed out view of the UK, centred on London. (Tried Firefox and IE.)

    [Sorry. Hopefully it works now. -Raymond]
  3. asdbsd says:

    Still, Opera's years ahead in standard compliance, speed, safety and user experience. So they kind of have the right to fail at pranks.

  4. Marcel says:

    Actually, I've been an Opera user for many many years, even paid for a few version while it was still payware. But by releasing 10.5 they lost a LOT of credibility with me. It was just released to meet the deadline for inclusion in the Windows browser selection screen, even through it was far from ready for prime-time. I hope 10.70 will finally be a stable browser again…

    Apart from that, I like these little pranks. The IE ones, too, as it puts a more human face on the teams that develop these things.

  5. Leo Davidson says:

    [Sorry. Hopefully it works now. -Raymond]

    That fixed it. Ta!

  6. Andrew says:

    For a guy who clearly spends a lot of time reading between the lines of the questions that customers write you certainly put a lot of faith in the accuracy of Rod's description. If there's one I've learnt about sales and marketing people is that they tend to get a little blustery with their descriptions when it suits their purpose. They rarely lie but they certainly exaggerate if they know it will help their cause, like say giving a journalist a juicy quote so that they can get some free advertising. You'd wish that journalists would do a little more fact checking but that's a tough industry to be in right now and so corners get cut.

  7. Nick says:

    The IE team sending cake to the Firefox guys is definitely classy.  Even better is that they did it again for Firefox 3.

    With FF4 on the horizon now, I wonder if they'll do it again.  Of course IE9 is coming up pretty soon as well, it might be nice if Mozilla returned the gesture :)

  8. Aryeh Gregor says:

    Marquess, thanks for that.  Reading the Encyclopedia Brown section of tvtropes.org/…/ConvictionByContradiction brought back tons of memories.  Thankfully, I've already read enough of TV Tropes to be resistant to its addictive effects, so I stopped there.  ;)

  9. Aryeh Gregor says:

    This reminds me of the Encyclopedia Brown stories that I used to read as a kid.  One I remember is that he caught someone lying about something because she said that she remembered seeing the glint of a ring someone was wearing on his right hand as he turned the page of a Hebrew book.  Aha, said the detective, Hebrew reads right-to-left, so he would have been turning it with a left hand!  Liar!  Which is absurd.  Minor details of remembered stories will often be clearly wrong if you think about them, but that doesn't mean the overall account is wrong.  (Which is why that sort of book always annoyed me as a kid and I never bothered thinking much before looking up the supposed answer in the back.)

    Also, I read Hebrew books on a daily basis, and I turn the pages with my right hand, probably since I'm a rightie.  Oh well.  Eventually I read Sherlock Holmes and discovered that you know what, it's possible to make detective stories that are actually *convincing*.

    Link to another anti-Microsoft prank:


    In case you don't get the joke (the vendor presumably didn't), the guy giving the thumbs-up is Linus Torvalds, attending a Linux conference in Japan.  This one was widely reported.

  10. Gregory Kong says:

    Anybody who can resist TVTropes is a man amongst men (even if you are a woman). I usually lose a few hours from a single link.

  11. Marquess says:

    Encyclopedia Brown actually became the namesake of this kind of reasoning. Read here: tvtropes.org/…/EncyclopediaBrowned (in reference to Dan Browned, which is when you write scientic crap and claim to have done the research).

    And what better advertisement than *Linus Torvalds* giving the thumbs-up to Windows 7?

  12. GWO says:

    I love this story.  Raymond brings on the full "I'm so much smarter than you I can prove you're a lying" and blows hard through his "logic" to get to the POIDH … and is immediately trumped by reality, once again proving that your logic is only as good as your (implicit) assumptions.

  13. JoeWoodbury says:

    Trumped by reality? Since when is a tiny red banner a "big red billboard". What I find juvenile is that Hamlin thought anyone cared.

  14. Kudos to Raymond for using an image.

  15. Aaron says:

    While I wouldn't defend the kind of exaggeration made by Mr. Hamlin in this case, I figured Opera Software would be a company you might generally share some mutual respect with at Microsoft.  With the aforementioned 10.5 "rush for Windows Inclusion" aside, Opera tends to be efficient, low on bugs, and generally ahead of the curve on features (Tabs way back in the 90s, "Speed Dial" before any of the Safari/Chrome copycats, integrated debugging system that is essentially unrivaled in terms of built-in features – though FireBug is also pretty good), and of course their nearly always being the first to support whatever new Web Standard comes along).

    I know some people had gripes with the interface (too hard to customize I guess, kind of required a unix-esque knowledge of exactly what settings to fiddle and exactly what files to fiddle in) and with the fact that it cost money in the past, but I think (as far as fully-featured graphical web-browsers go), Opera's track-record and current offering are pretty far ahead of the competition…  their tiny market-share probably indicates that they're doing something wrong, but I can't really see what it is from a technical standpoint.  

  16. DWalker says:

    Your "Go Mustangs" link takes me to a page that says the domain name has expired and is awaiting renwal.  Someone in Redmond ought to let them know…  :-)

    [Ah, the dangers of scheduling entries 18 months in advance… I've redirected the link to something else Mustangs-related. -Raymond]
  17. Poochner says:

    TVTropes spells doom until you've spent an age there.

    Dan Brown stories are fine once you figure out what the science fiction is.  I also read the Encyclopedia Brown books.  As for rip-off conclusions, I submit Lillian Jackson Braun–in the climactic scene, the hero reaches out the window and pulls in a heretofore unmentioned character as the culprit. Now that's a cheat.

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