By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 7:57 am
People who don’t like Windows Vista? They’re just ignorant! That would seem to be the message of The Mojave Experiment, a new Microsoft marketing site for Windows Vista. Earlier this month, the company gave 120 users of various versions of Windows, OS X, and Linux demos of “Project Mojave,” an upcoming new version of Windows. The videos at the Mojave site show them being dazzled by its features and performance.
But then Microsoft told them that Mojave was a ruse: What they were being dazzled by was Vista. Apparently Their previous distaste for the operating system was borne of misinformation; once they were educated, they became converts.
Which reminded me of another ad campaign I hadn’t seen in awhile:
Mojave is a very clever conceit, and for some Vista skeptics, it’s probably effective. But…
The folks in Microsoft’s clips must be, by definition, casual computer users–more advanced types. even if they weren’t Vista users, would have been able to tell that “Mojave” was Vista. (Microsoft doesn’t say how it screened its Mojave subjects or whether its trickery was effective in every case–I wonder if any of the test subjects politely asked, “Why are you showing me Windows Vista and saying it’s something else?”) You can see in some of the clips that these people are not deeply into PCs: When one guy is told that Windows Media Center lets him watch TV for free, he looks dumbstruck.
These people had existing impressions of Vista–most likely derived from reading about it or talking to other people who’d used it. Those impressions were negative. They were swayed by a ten-minute demo by someone working for Microsoft. The bottom line is that A) the experiment was incredibly superficial and any subject who changed his or her mind about Vista based on a brief demo is pretty darn impressionable; and B) it seems to say that ten minutes of marketing by Microsoft provides a better portrait of the OS than talking to friends and family who have spent hands-on time with it in the real world.
The whole idea is of a piece with other Microsoft marketing campaigns that have a subtext that its customers aren’t all that bright. The company’s slogan is the patronizing “Your Potential. Our Passion.” It’s compared users of non-current versions of Office to dinosaurs. It just caught flack for saying that being dubious about Vista is akin to thinking the world is flat. In short, it keeps on drawing some sort of vaguely insulting connection between being an unsuccessful schlub and not buying the current versions of Microsoft products.
Telling the Mojave subjects that Vista was a new version of Windows was as harmless as little white lies get, but it sorta makes me uncomfortable. Who wants the companies they do business with to tell them fibs of any sort? Why couldn’t Microsoft have done something similar that involved giving people a fresh look at Vista without deceiving them? A truly interesting experiment of this sort would involve Microsoft lending Vista machines to real people for a month of hands-on experience. The results would undeniably tell you more about Vista than how people respond to a demo.
The Mojave site has a page of “facts” about Vista, and while some are significant, such as the number of third-party products that work with the OS today, there’s a section that refers to “actual Windows Vista users,” and says that 89% are satisfied–but then brings up the ten-minute demo again. Looks like the facts intermingle information about Vista users and Mojave subjects in a way that’s confusing at best and misleading at worst.
The thing is, Vista’s problem is much deeper than one of perception among people who don’t know much about it. A lot of home and business users have made entirely rational decisions to avoid it. I’ve talked to countless people who have bought Vista and were either very unhappy with the experience or found it to be something less than the life-changing experience that Microsoft has promised in advertising. It’s possible to know what you’re talking about and not like Vista.
I don’t wanna come off as sounding like I’m saying that the people in the Mojave videos are dummies. Some of the smartest people I know know very little about computer operating systems; some people who are operating-system experts need to get a life. But the Mojave site really doesn’t address the millions of smart, well-informed people who Microsoft is having a tough time turning into Vista fans.
Over at CNET’s News.com, Ina Fried, who broke the Mojave story, says that Mojave isn’t part of the big, pricey ad campaign that Microsoft is planning to help turn the Vista tide. I’m very curious to see those ads. And I hope for everybody’s sake that unlike much Microsoft advertising, they feel like they’re addressing intelligent adults…