Windows’ Life Without Walls Print Ads: Handsome! Unconvincing!

They're attractive and to the point. But how strong a case do they make for Windows?

By  |  Friday, September 19, 2008 at 9:45 am

Good news! We’re now officially awash in new Windows ads. Not only are the first commercials in the second phase of TV spots out, but Microsoft has posted some new ads that will show up in print publications. It’s no surprise that these ones are a bit more explicit about Windows as a product line, compared to the almost-entirely-emotional print ads. I can’t imagine anyone having the sort of violent negative reaction to the print campaign that some people had to the first TV ads, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun picking them apart in excessive detail.

Here’s the text from the above ad:

This epic struggle explains why we make what we make and do what we do. The thing that gets us out of bed every day is the prospect of creating pathways above, around and through walls. To start a dialogue between hundreds of devices, billions of people and a world of ideas. To lift up the smallest of us. And catapult the most audacious of us. But, most importantly, to connect all of us to the four corners of our own digital lives and to each other. To go on doing the little stuff, the big stuff, the crazy stuff and that ridiculously necessary stuff. On our own or together. This is more than software we’re talking about, it’s an approach to life. An approach dedicated to engineering the absence of anything that might stand in the way…of life. Today, more than one billion people worldwide have Windows. Which is just another way of saying we have each other.

Here’s another ad:

Here’s the teensy text from this one:

This is gonna be fun. The walls between devices are giving way to Windows. Phones understand PCs. PCs understand TVs. And a whole family of devices connect your work to your personal life and connect you to over a billion other Windows users around the globe. Defying inertia. Kind of gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it?

And here are some ads–really nice-looking, billboard-like ones–that continue the theme through pure imagery:

Some thoughts on the major ideas which come up in these ads, and whether they add up to a fresh take on Windows:

More than a billion people around the world are connected through Windows. That fact has also come up in the TV ads. (Jerry Seinfeld thoughtfully pointed it out to Bill Gates in the conclusion of the second spot.) I think one of the messages behind the campaign is that Windows is the opposite of the exclusive club that the Mac represents: It’s everywhere, and used by folks of all types (even “the smallest of us”). Very true.

But these ads say that the fact there are a billions Windows users “is just another way of saying we have each other”–creepy!–and otherwise suggest that there’s some beneficial network effect to using Windows. What that would be, I’m not sure–one of the fabulous things about the Internet is that it runs on standards and it really doesn’t matter whether you and I are using the same operating system and applications. Windows users aren’t locked into using Internet Explorer or Windows Live services–and thank heavens for that.

Windows lets PCs, phones, and TVs talk to each other. Yup, it’s available in various forms for all three types of devices. But if there’s inherent benefit in that fact, I haven’t discovered it–I’ve spent endless hours wrestling with Microsoft’s ActiveSync over the years, trying to make it properly connect Windows desktop PCs with Windows Mobile phones. And DataViz’s Documents to Go is famous for doing a better job of putting Microsoft Office documents onto phones than Microsoft does itself. PlaysForSure, which was supposed to make Windows talk to an array of MP3 players, was such a fiasco that Microsoft disowned it in favor of the iPod-like Zune.

There may be instances in which Microsoft platforms talk to each other as seamlessly as the ads suggest–Windows Media Center Extenders seem to do a pretty good job of putting the Media Center experience onto multiple TVs–but it’s hardly a given.

And really, the notion of life being better if I run Windows everywhere doesn’t sound like breaking down walls–it sounds like preserving them. (Not just a Microsoft thing, of course: It’s equally true of Apple’s walled-garden iTunes ecosystem.)

Windows defies inertia, because of Microsoft’s dedication to engineering the absence of anything that might stand in the way of life. One of the major issues with Microsoft products is that they tend to introduce inertia, in the form of security hassles, troubleshooting issues, unreliable copy protection, and upgrades that require relearning without clear benefit. When folks ask me what the arguments are for choosing a Mac over a Windows PC, I tell them that the biggest one is simply that they’ll likely spend less time futzing and more time getting stuff done.

Windows provides choice of devices. In many ways, this is the single strongest argument for using Windows rather than other operating systems: It’s available on all sorts of devices from all sorts of companies, providing something for almost everybody. Apple, by contrast, provides only a handful of computers and a grand total of one phone (admittedly, a grand total of one phone that may be the best phone on the market). But the ads are pretty understated on this point. One of them does talk about “hundreds of devices,” and one shows a couple of phones, and all of the ones that show PCs, phones, and TVs display the logos of famous manufacturers, which is a subtle reminder that the world of Windows provides lots of options.

Windows helps ordinary people do great things. I think I may be alone here, since I rarely see anyone else comment on this, but there’s a patronizing undercurrent in much of Microsoft’s ads that really rankles me as a consumer, and there’s a hint of it here. I’m not sure who the “smallest of us” is that Windows lifts up, and I’m pretty sure that the most audacious of us don’t need to be catapulted by Windows. But the new ads don’t contain the overwhelming sense of Microsoft looking down on its customers that stuff like “Your potential. Our passion.” does, so I’ll give the company a pass here. (Side note: Bill Gates is indeed doing extraordinary work to lift up people all over the world, but the only direct contribution that Windows is making is in the form of profits.)

Windows is about software running on hardware. Yes, one of the ads says “This is more than software we’re talking about,” and there are vague references to being connected. But I’m surprised that the ads don’t have much to say about Windows in the form of the Windows Live Web services. (Two of the ads mention Windows in “Live” form as well as “PC” and “Mobile,” which would seem to suggest that Microsoft thinks that Windows Live is known by and resonates with ordinary folks; if I’d been the copywriter, I would said “Web” instead of “Live.”) I almost wonder if Microsoft is conceding that Windows Live in its current form is simply not compelling enough to be at the center of these ads. But perhaps there are more ads in the wings that are more Webby.

Windows is not synonymous with Vista. None of the ads mention Vista by name. A Microsoft-basher might latch onto that fact as indication that Microsoft is embarrassed by the OS. Naw–the company is obviously being truthful when it says that it’s promoting the overarching concept of Windows in all its forms, not a particular version. It’s entirely possible we’ll see more Vista-specific ads before it’s burned through all $300 million of ad spending.

Oh, and that “Windows: Life Without Walls” slogan? It’s subtly different from the rumored “Windows, Not Walls” tagline that had been rumored, and which sounded more like it was saying that Windows competitors involved walls. I wouldn’t read too much into the version that’s in these ads–I think it’s just playing off the idea that walls are limiting and windows provide transparency. When you think of it, it’s the same pitch that Microsoft has made for its products for years–a new way of saying “Where do you want to go today?” Although come to think of it, looking through windows is a somewhat passive metaphor…is it too late to rebrand the operating system as “Microsoft Doors?”

Whew. I’ve just spent far more words analyzing those ads than appear in the ads themselves. Bottom line: I’m glad that the print ads are at least trying to make an argument for Windows based on specific facts…but I’d be much happier if Windows lived up to the argument they’re making.

Any additional thoughts?


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20 Comments For This Post

  1. Ruben Says:

    “Windows: Life Without Walls”
    Who comes up with that stuff?
    If I have no walls, where am I going to put the windows?
    Better yet: if I don’t have walls, I don’t NEED windows!

  2. Jason Says:

    Is it just me, or is the guy taking a chainsaw to his wall a messy, disturbing image? Seems like awfully insane behavior for such a positive message…

    (Yes, I know it’s a metaphor. But it’s a crazy one.)

  3. djchang Says:

    Not credible.

    Users have more emotional attachment to browsers than the Operating System. Browsers have become the defacto window to the wall-less world. No amount of money will change user sentiment.


  4. Newman Says:

    Macintosh already owns the image of seamlessness among computer, phone, and TV. What the new Microsoft ad campaign emphasizes once again is Microsoft playing catch-up with Macintosh. This as campaign on the heels of Microsoft joining Jerry, Kramer, Elaine, and George, who went to jail for extreme indifference to the suffering of other people. Suffering, indifference, and tardiness are not attributes I would push were I them.

  5. Hypnos4hire Says:

    I like the ads, all of them. It is nice to see Microsoft pushing back. Mac has sold this sleek, elitist image long enough. They have nice products, but if I hear one more person ramble on about how amazing the apple “experience” is after drinking the kool-aid, I’m going to stroke out. These are all just tools to allow us to communicate better, research our interests easier, and simply live our lives with as little stress as possible. Both products accomplish this goal, so Mac vs. PC, it doesn’t really matter. I’m just tired of the zombie-like Apple zeal.

  6. BV Says:

    Microsoft decision makers seem to be of many minds with their advertising Their style shows a by committee design with too many advertising people and executives in the decision making process. There is little clarity and focus and in the end we are sold on some vaporous line like “windows without walls.” “Windows not walls” is better and a good idea by some bright advertising kid before his execs or the Microsoft execs watered it down.

    Microsoft would do better to delegate their advertising ala IBM or slim down the decision makers ala Apple.

  7. Steve Says:

    First off, a thought to chew on: Let us not soon forget the Macintosh is technically a PC.


    It seems like there was two schools of thought between that is currently being produced and the earlier Gates/Seinfeld Ads. It’s almost as if there was duplication of effort. Could the current campaign been thought up by a different team than the Gates/Seinfeld ads? Well, it seems that way.

    The underlying message of the 2nd set of ads seems to tow the line of the Mojave Experiment, one of Peer Pressure, and “You judged too soon”. Microsoft would be better off by taking the bold, intuitive step of fixing the issues with Vista and moving on.

    I refuse to hold my breath. Because the concepts of “Pride” and “Full Speed Ahead” are probably too deeply engraved in the DNA of Redmond. Such action would run opposite of ANYTHING ever witnessed from said company.

    Mojave received the negativity because the underlying message in two words was: “You’re dumb”. I imagine this backlash will continue throughout the $300MM campaign until Microsoft makes a concentrated effort to own up to their mistakes and invest substantial resources to rectify it.

    Understand that if people have to go through the motions of re-learning an operating system, it might as well be something new, shiny and also offers (at minimum) existing functionality. So it’s not surprising that the high end of PCs is eroding to the OSX/Mac platform.
    Macintosh allows the user ability to run OSX alongside XP. Running legacy XP/Vista OS and associated applications (Yes, I did tag XP/Vista as Legacy) under Parallels/VMWare provides this.

    “Is this hubris?” One may ask. I think so.

    Vista is broken. Who is going to fix it? Seems like Steve Jobs.

  8. d00b Says:

    Some thoughts:

    There is a reason why the video ads get so much more attention: the video media’s supremacy is so much more compelling than print media. Among the current technorati, browsing the (visual) web is the rule, and browsing print mags is the rare exception. That said, print media affords more informational density, hence a richer message, for advertising.

    The first print ad shown violates advertising fundamentals, with the use of dense, small type. It may depend on the targetted demog (may be it was in an accounting trade rag?), but indicates amateurish work.

    The rest of the visual ads make use of the extended desktop as a metaphor. Creatively speaking, it’s rather prosaic, relying on a single (fragmented) static image to appeal. I’d like to see some sort of transformative/evolving process, i.e. using Windows as an enabler to create, from raw material to finished product, or to form synergy between disparate entities (eg a social network). The used metaphor is also troubling in that it centers on the traditional desktop, whereas the mainstream trend is away from desktops and toward the mobile space. It’s all very stolid and staid. It doesn’t catch my eye nor my imagination.

    Your critiques, in attempting to look for the steak behind the sizzle, say something about you. You are looking for logic and sense to back up what is an emotive, visceral appeal, and your tendency to itemize things, indicate you are a techie (which of course is obvious given the name of this blog). This doesn’t negate your points per se, but it does limit their relevance to the realm of the techie crowd. Again, depending on where the ads were placed, the appeal may be to other demographics than techs.

  9. Mike Says:

    Who really cares about the ads? No – I’m not a victim of Windows Advertising Fatigue, I’m a victim of Windows fatigue. When has it ever worked properly, reliably, and helpfully?

  10. Dan Says:

    First of all, a Mac is a PC. They just have geniuses in their advertising department and so the world has now acknowledged computers running Windows as a PC and a Mac as a, well a Mac. They sold the IPOD as the be all end all of MP3 players. Advertising done right is a powerful thing and Apple has done it right. They have made Apple “hip” and it sings to the younger crowd.

    However, for those smart enough to see through the BS and not drink the Apple Kool-Aid will know that the Mac is just a PC running a different operating system. What else do i see? I see a company that has it’s users and fans by the balls. Buy a Mac and you’ll have to buy everything Apple. You’ll be buying the IPOD (if you don’t already have it) and the IPhone and using all of it while sitting on your ICommode. As someone else pointed out these Mac users have some elitist attitude like they are saving the planet buy owning a Mac. Mac users are the most smug people i have ever met.

    The best comeback that i use when faced with a Mac user is why use WindowsXP or Vista on a Mac? You always here Mac users say “you can run Windows on a Mac!” Why??? Isn’t the whole point of owning a Mac the operating system? Isn’t that the core of the whole product. Isn’t that the whole debate, Windows sucks Mac is great? The guts are the same it’s just the operating system that’s different. But Mac users want to use this argument that Windows runs better on a Mac. BS! Why do i need to use an operating system and another piece of software just to run Windows? Why would i want to do that? If i’m going to buy a Mac it will be to get away from Windows. But Mac users insist on using this argument with Windows users. At least Linux users say “just load Linux.” Even though Linux is the worst out of all three.

    My argument is that Apple has created this lie that a Mac is bullet proof. It can’t get viruses. It’s rock solid and will never lock-up or crash. It just magically works and does everything you want it to do without any problems ever! They are lying to everyone. It’s just a computer. It IS a PC. It can get viruses and it can crash and it does. The reason why it’s not a big deal right now is because they are just a pimple on the butt of the computer world and no one wants to waste their time creating viruses for such a small percentage of users. If they were as big as Windows they would have the same problems. Windows is on most computers in the world. Windows has to support thousands of products and naturally there will be problems and incompatibility. If Apple ever grows large enough they will experience it first hand. Right now they’re small enough to control it and not have to worry about it. Then what will their advertising campaign be?

    I use a PC with Windows because it’s the industry standard. I use a PC because i can control what’s on it and it’s price. I can build a small internet machine or a powerful gaming rig. With Mac you only have a view choices and they are over-priced choices at that. Apple makes a good product. I don’t think anyone can dispute that but it’s not the be all end all of computers. And stop the lies! They’ll only come back to bite you later!

  11. Gene Moore Says:

    OPT OUT Please- it just messes up all the rest od Microsoft and Windows. Can’t get mail!!!!since the ads started.

  12. helios Says:

    Is it lost an everyone that they have the audacity to use the unofficial Linux mascot in their ads? I just blogged about one such billboard in Austin.

    Microsoft will eventually have the penguin associated with Windows. Any takers?


  13. Jan Says:

    The penguins march relentlessly on. First they took the server. Then the desktop. Now they’re taking the cell phone. What’s next? World domination!

  14. Joebob Says:

    helios: The penguin hijacking is obviously lost on Jan for one.

    How long has this penguin ad been out? A month? I first heard of it yesterday.

    This should extinguish any pity people feel for MS in its decline.

  15. xelados Says:

    >> At least Linux users say “just load Linux.” Even though Linux is the worst out of all three.

    If you’re a braindead mouthbreather, sure. Linux is _the_ OS for people who want absolute control over their computer and how it works. It’s unmatched as a server and in portability. If you insist on a flashy GUI, you have 4 or 5 major choices. Combined with compiz-fusion, you can get all the eye-candy you want (that Windows nor Mac have) and use less resources than both.

    Of course, you have to have the desire (and ability) to learn technical things. That just means Linux isn’t for idiots. The best part is that it’s free.

  16. 106ja Says:

    “Life without walls” as a campaign motto just shows how stupid are MS advertising strategist. In the world without walls who needs windows. In the life without walls there is NO windows. By definition a WINDOW IS just little bit more than a HOLE ON THE WALL.

    Then “Millions of billions uses Windows” as a message just … well according to Kant (You remember Immanuel no?) has no significance when we thought as human beings. The fact that billions uses windows is no proof of anything at all, especially not that that one poor hibernated freak from 70-est that still do gaming on his Atari 512 ST is somehow wrong. Or Linux or Mac users or … whatever. 99% of the people living on this planet are not extremely beautiful and smart and well educated and has decent job. Does that makes those 1% who are extremely beautiful, smart, educated and well employed all in same time somehow inferior or less worthy. Numbers simply has no significance in the realm of human thought.

    I just like to see Windows zealots whining ’bout Mac’s superior advertising. Man the only thing that still keeps windows on our desktops is MS advertising money.

    P.S. Do not judge me by my English please. In my native language there is no article nor Xs and Ys. I’m just polite and write on language you understand.

  17. A.N.Onymous Says:

    When I originally saw the “Life without walls” slogan, I nearly burst out laughing as it seemed to me to be an attempt at a retort (a rather weak one) to the slogan I see on Linux forums quite frequently, namely “In a world without walls and fences, who needs Windows and Gates?” Quite so. Without a wall there is no need for a fence!

  18. A.N.Onymous Says:

    Sorry, I meant, “without a wall there is no need for a window!”

  19. remaras Says:

    Oh Hum!

  20. Jay Says:

    Windows “Life without Walls”

    Hmmm… No wonder why there’s no PRIVACY in that operating system, and the end-user of the OS has to buy anti-virus software, privacy software, software firewalls, and every other form of electronic data protection. And also run so many updates and scans of the computer system on a regular frequent basis, it’s because the Operating System is ALL WINDOWS! There are NO WALLS FOR PROTECTION! 🙂

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