Microsoft displays ads to some Office 2021 users

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 13, 2022
Microsoft Office

Buying Microsoft Office 2021 and not the subscription-based Microsoft 365, is a deliberate choice for many users. Some prefer to pay once for a product instead of having to pay each month for it.

microsoft office 2021 advertisement
image credit: Lee Holmes

Imagine the surprise of an Office 2021 customer who is greeted with an advertisement for Microsoft 365 in Office 2021. Twitter user Lee Holmes was the first to experience the ad and he published a screenshot of it on Twitter.

The ad, displayed as a single line in Word 2021, offered three months of Microsoft 365 Family for a discounted price to Holmes.

Limited Time Offer Get 3 months of Microsoft 365 Family for only $$0.99

The double-$$ is no typo, Microsoft's ad uses it exactly like that. It appears that Microsoft is experimenting with different ads, likely to find out the one that converts the best. According to Bleeping Computer, others saw the following ad in Office 2021:

For just $$0.99, get 3 months of Microsoft 365 Family and share with up to 5 people. It is like getting six subscriptions in one. TERMS APPLY

Attempts to make Office 2021 show ads on several test systems failed. The campaign could be limited to certain regions or other metrics.

Holmes, who is a Principal Security Architect at Microsoft, felt disappointed when he saw the advertisement in Office 2021. Apart from crossing a line by displaying ads in a commercial product, one has to wonder how successful this particular campaign can be.

The customer has bought Microsoft Office 2021 already, the latest perpetual version of Office. A Microsoft 365 subscription provides access to Office tools as well. The main benefits are that the Office programs provided through a Microsoft 365 subscription are not limited to a single device and that OneDrive storage is raised to 1 Terabyte. A Microsoft 365 Family plan gives these benefits to up to six people.

The use of ads is increasing

The promotional message in Office 2021 is the latest in an ever growing series of ads in Microsoft products. Microsoft displayed advertisement in File Explorer to some Windows Insider users earlier this year.

In 2021, Microsoft pushed an advertisement to Windows 11 Insider systems for Microsoft Teams that caused systems to hang.

In 2020, Microsoft added listings to Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel and Word to the Start Menu of Windows and the list of installed programs, without any action on part of the system administrator or user. These were shortcuts to Office Web Applications.

In 2018, ads were displayed in the Mail client, which Microsoft later claimed were experimental only.

Advertisement for OneDrive was also displayed in File Explorer, and there may be ads when Windows users search for other browsers in the Start Menu.

It appears, that Microsoft executives have discovered a new way of promoting other company products and services to customers, and that the use is increasing.

Now You: No-go or brilliant marketing? What is your take on this?

Microsoft displays ads to some Office 2021 users
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Microsoft displays ads to some Office 2021 users
Microsoft has started to display advertisement for its Microsoft 365 subscription service to users of Microsoft Office 2021.
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  1. leland said on August 16, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    O&O ShutUp10 might help. It blocks many things in Windows but also other programs. Also there are many optimizers for Windows 10 and 11 that might also have options to block this. It’s a sad state of affairs when it is up to the user to block this crap from showing up in a product you spent money on.

  2. MiquelFire said on August 16, 2022 at 3:09 pm

    I gotten this ad… which doesn’t make any sense because I’m already on the plan they’re advertising.

    Something is broken with who they display this to. Basically it’s like going to Google’s site, and seeing an ad to use Chrome when you’re already using Chrome.

  3. pHROZEN gHOST said on August 14, 2022 at 5:51 pm

    When they start doing this on LibreOffice I’ll be concerned.

  4. Mike L said on August 14, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    I saw one of these ads in my Outlook desktop client that is part of aa Microsoft 365 Apps for business subscription. I’m the administrator of that Office 365 Tenant and it angered me. I will be recommending to the owner that we consider alternatives.

    I’ve noticed there are some streaming services charging me a subscription fee AND serving ads. I’m not OK with that because I didn’t sign up for a lite version that is partially ad supported. This is not going to end well for those companies.

  5. Steve S. said on August 14, 2022 at 2:40 am

    I say no-go. Windows – and many other MS products – is unfortunately becoming less an “OS” (operating system) and more of an “AS” (advertising system). MS continues pushing to convert all their products into the domain of rentier capitalism. Making us rent intellectual property rather than buy a product. They want to keep clipping those coupons every year or month. I wonder when they’ll try to do that to Windows itself. Monthly or annual charges for Windows SAAS, anyone?

    Of course, MS isn’t the only corporation doing this, nor the worst offender. Things have been moving in this direction for quite some time. Digital consumers as the new serf. Ugh.

  6. Herman Cost said on August 13, 2022 at 10:58 pm

    I use Excel and Word 2010. No ads there! :-) If I ever am forced to see them, I’d simply switch over to LibreOffice.

    1. Better Days said on August 13, 2022 at 11:21 pm

      I got this same ad in my version of Excel 2021 perhaps two or three days ago. I too thought it was pretty gross. I know ads are everywhere now, but it felt like this one crossed some kind of previously uncrossed line.

      I know the day will come when I’m forced into a Microsoft 365 subscription but I’ll hold out as long as I can.

  7. Anonymous said on August 13, 2022 at 10:27 pm

    I’m glad I use open software like Linux and LibreOffice so I don’t have to deal with the M$ crap.

  8. Benjamin said on August 13, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    They understand that they are a dictatorship and most people have no real choice to choose. See they even via some governments introduce their products in kindergardens and first grade school. THis is what corporations try to do always. To create a monopoly or at least big shares of a market to be able to extract…

  9. Tom Hawack said on August 13, 2022 at 3:10 pm

    Definitely a no-go : Microsoft displaying ads on a commercial product cannot be marketing, dull or brilliant.

    My only relationship with Microsoft is the OS (Win 7) but I use none of their products and none of their services. All Microsoft domains are blocked, system-wide. Remains Windows 7 which is bound to become a memory of times when Microsoft was still a reference the day I will have switched to a modern OS.

    Many companies driven by the always more income syndrome are getting insane. Here Microsoft, there Google. The moment one’s aim is money at all cost (if I may say!) starts the descent to hell, when money as a consequence of carrying out a dream may lead to the heavens. More, always more income and less, always less respect of the users : both are tied.

    I am disgusted.

  10. Donutz said on August 13, 2022 at 2:33 pm

    Well, there are good and bad alternatives to Microshit Office, some cost, some don’t. No matter what platform you are on…and yes, no ads…

  11. Jeff M.S. said on August 13, 2022 at 2:15 pm

    Greed pushed to the limits. Pay us once, pay us again. And again. While they remove more features and add a few.

    1. Peterc said on August 15, 2022 at 4:06 am

      @Jeff M.S.:

      “Pay us once, pay us again. And again.”

      Reminds me of a line from “Goodfellas,” about the predicament business owners who have entered into a “protection” arrangement with Paulie find themselves in. (Search YouTube for Goodfellas “pay me”.) Mob protection racket, Microsoft vendor lock-in: six of one, half a dozen of the other.

  12. just an Ed said on August 13, 2022 at 2:12 pm

    Software as a Dis-service:How To Own Nothing and be Happy. Coming to a Brave New World near you! ;-)

  13. Daniel said on August 13, 2022 at 1:49 pm

    Glad you brought this up Martin.

    Have Outlook 2019 installed, and ads to upgrade from 2016 to Office 365 have been regularly popping up over the last while.

    Thunderbird, here we come?

  14. Dale said on August 13, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    It looks like MS is acting in a fit of desperation. Like a sinking ship trying to stay afloat.

  15. ECJ said on August 13, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    Microsoft really have lost the plot under Satya. The company is a mess.

  16. Martin said on August 13, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    Microsoft could cramm 80% of screen space in Office with ads, and it would still be better than any open source alternative.

  17. Ricks said on August 13, 2022 at 10:41 am

    I hope one of the next articles in ghacks is “how to permanently remove ads in Office” :).

  18. Anonymous said on August 13, 2022 at 9:01 am

    Now Office is ruined just as Windows 11 is. Is everyone at Microsoft this stupid? There is group of people inside Microsoft purposely trying to sabotage every Microsoft product. These employees need to be laid off and permanently banned from entering another technology-related field.

    1. Frankel said on August 13, 2022 at 4:21 pm

      “Why pay once when you could pay monthly?”
      — some exec in Redmond

  19. woah said on August 13, 2022 at 8:31 am

    If one uses a proprietary Operating System designed by a convicted monopoly, they deserve whatever M$ shoves down their throat.

    1. ECJ said on August 13, 2022 at 2:28 pm

      There are only two desktop platforms suitable for mainstream business use: MacOS and Windows. Linux is not a viable alternative as many of the applications used by businesses (and quite often consumers as well) are only available and supported on those two platforms. Despite decades of begging, Linux has been unable to attract those developers to their platform.

      In addition, the FOSS equivalent of most commercial software (even if there is an equivalent at all) are subpar and despite the price being free, it would be too costly to roll out in an organisation due to lost productivity and the increased support and training costs.

      So no, they do not “…deserve whatever M$ shoves down their throat”. Businesses need to function. Instead of blaming the victims, blame the aggressor – which in this case is Microsoft who are acting in an unscrupulous and unprofessional manner (yet again), which has become a regular occurrence under Satya Nadella.

      1. Anonymous said on August 15, 2022 at 2:38 am

        From my experience, all people use Windows. Mac is only used by some of the employees. Linux is only used by IT people.

        Windows despite the flaws, has good legacy support and drivers. Comparing to Linux where you need to find a driver youself.

        People only used Linux for servers because it’s free and doesn’t need any driver lol

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