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Nadella praises Google's marketing (sarcasm or envy?)

Speaking at the Fortune Brainstorm conference, Microsoft's new CEO says he can learn from Google because it markets its moonshot products well. But what did he really mean?

Does he really admire Google's marketing? Le Web/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

CEOs often speak because they have to, rather than want to.

It's part of the job, like getting someone to write 3,000-word e-mails for you.

So when new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella appeared at the Fortune Brainstorm tech conference, he knew he had to say something.

In at least one instance, though, there can be debate about what he actually said.

As tweeted by Fortune's Dan Primack, Nadella was asked about Google's moonshots. You know, useful things like self-driving cars and Google Glass.

His reply was that there's "always a lot to learn from people who market themselves well."

One might conclude from these few, but clearly chosen words that Nadella believes that all of Google's highfalutin thinking is merely marketing puffery to support what is essentially an advertising company.

This is understandable, as none of Google's pies in the sky have yet edified the masses.

I find myself, however, reaching for another message from Nadella's words. (We've asked Microsoft for clarification). In suggesting that Google has marketed itself well, there's the implication that Microsoft hasn't.

It's not hard to find instances where this has been the case. The misguided launch of Surface, with its dancing teenies and businesspersons, was surely one of the lower points in tech marketing and televised dancing.

To emit this emptiness for a product that was genuinely full of ideas was myopia of a high level.

It's not as if Microsoft hasn't been able to market itself well on occasion. Xbox, for example, has often shown that it knows humans well and understands what moves them.

Google has, for it part, managed to make itself appear far more human than it actually is with marketing that appeals to emotions.

It's one of Nadella's bigger challenges to make how the company presents itself compelling. Perhaps he will sit down, look at what Google has done and tell his people: "We can do that. And, um, why haven't we done it?"

One hopes, though, that the people in Redmond who attempted to attack Google with such laughable Camembert as the Scroogled campaign will pay special attention.