Wednesday, September 24 2008, 13:30
The recent Microsoft ads
In several recent conversations between Fred and me, we discussed a lot about Microsoft’s marketing strategy, which tends to lag a bit behind compared to that of Apple or Google. The recent advertisement from Microsoft featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld was hardly a response to the marketing war led by Microsoft’s competitors who do not hesitate to criticize Microsoft and make its customers like fools. But for now, let’s think about why the Gates/Seinfeld advertisement couldn't be as popular as they could have expected...
- Bill Gates: Bill Gates is the world richest man in the world (or oscillates between the 1st and 2nd position). This fact alone causes people to have difficulty to identify to him. Worse, Bill Gates is hated by many. While I find difficult to understand considering he is one of the most benevolent man on the planet dedicating a good part of his fortune to charity, many people ignore this fact and to many of them, being very rich (let alone the richest) is a sin by itself and automatically means your hands are rather dirty from having committed all sort of crimes and atrocities.
Getting the company founder to advertise the product is rarely a good idea: his own interest is for his products to sell well and people can’t expect the truth from the person ruling the company. It would be a bit quickly forgetting that an advertisement in itself is merely a subliminal message to get people buy a product, that often people do not necessarily need: hence, lies (or sugarcoating to remain politically-correct) are bound to be used in the process sooner or later. Consumers know that, but the best is to not make it too obvious by making the big boss say sing the praises of his products himself.
Even then, if Microsoft wanted to put one of its highest ranking manager in the ad, it should have been Steve Ballmer, the new CEO of Microsoft. You can be sure this man knows how to make the show and that this ad would have been remembered for a long time by many. But more importantly, Bill Gates, being retired, is more the past of Microsoft than its future and it seems important to not blur the situation even further.
At worst (or at best?) people would not even have recognized Bill Gates and still wonder what the hell a certified accountant was doing in the ad with Jerry Seinfeld.
- Jerry Seinfeld: I’m not born in the USA and never even went there, but I understand that Jerry Seinfeld used to be a very popular actor and humorist, but he doesn’t seem to have done anything especially noteworthy since the end of the eponymous TV Series. Again, with are faced with someone representing the past rather than the future… and they are not trying to sell Windows 1.0 here.
- The setting: how is a shoes shop an appropriate setting to promote what was supposed to be the next generation operating system? There is hardly anything more
technologically-retardedthan a shoes shop. The conversation between Gates and Seinfeld probably simply amused some geeks but not the majority of the population
Oddly enough, Microsoft's ads running on the web are usually much successful: one example of this is the OneNote ads campagin named "stationery is bad", which features video clips of employees of a fictional company working mostly with stationery and other staples, rather than with an IT system appropriate to their needs: all kind of incidents (and thus hilarity) ensues and makes the round of the company (potentially leading to the IT manager or CEO, who could decide to implement the product). The target audience here is very easy to determine: office workers, of almost any age and position but with an operating system used by a wide-range of different users' categories from grand-mothers, children, IT managers, rocket-scientists and business men, it is much harder to make something that works for them all, which probably explains the "hit-or-miss" particularity of the most generic Microsoft ads. It is likely why Microsoft chose to use well-known figures like Gates and Seinfeld here, but when discussing with Fred about this article, we found out that he liked the Seinfeld TV series, while I never really got into and this and our respective views over this advertisment clip was greatly influenced by this fact. It seems already hard enough to target a product as versatile as Windows, used by so many different types of people to not make it even harder by relying on how much people liked a TV show or a character.
On the other hand, the very newest Microsoft ad seems to be a much more appropriate response to both Vista’s unpopularity and the attacks from Microsoft’s competitors, namely Apple, who didn’t hesitate to make a fool of PC users and attack their competitors. In my country, France, where comparative advertising is forbidden, Apple’s campaign looked a rather harsh one, but nevertheless funny, and very easy to parody (there are countless of them on Youtube, some much funnier than the original ones), which only can help the campaign’s impact.
Microsoft apparently always seemed reluctant to strike back to this kind of campaigns and in my opinion, they were right: it would only have led to holy wars about which operating system is the better and we have enough on that on the forums everywhere on the Internet. Furthermore, the market-dominating company simply can not use the same weapons as the outsider: the risk of backfiring is significant, especially considering Microsoft’s reputation (deserved or not is not the matter here) of crushing the competition.
Microsoft chose a good balance: this time, they spoke about their product under the most generic term possible : “PC”, which avoids mentioning the cursed name : Vista, which is probably at this point probably deemed an unredeemable product from a marketing point of view, but also has the benefit to include a whole range of products, including Microsoft Office and not only Windows. It is also finally an answer to Apple’s campaign that I was talking about earlier, and Microsoft shows it doesn’t need to play as dirty as its competitor to strike back. It also even manages to take benefit from the popularity of the “I’m a Mac” ads which have been running for a long time now.
While this marketing campaign seems much better than the previous ones, marketing is also something you do during the whole year and not necessarily in TV and magazines and a couple of bad decisions like implementing an anti-piracy protection calling home, which aside from frustrating customers, is bound to be told ever and ever again by the IT press and bloggers can totally nullify even the best advertisement ever…