Twenty Thoughts About a Microsoft Ad Campaign I Haven’t Seen Yet

Can $300 million, a veteran stand-up comic, and a recent retiree spruce up Windows' battered reputation?

By  |  Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 12:29 pm

11. Windows everywhere isn’t that valuable. Mary Jo Foley thinks that the “Windows, Not Walls” theme may incorporate Windows Mobile and Windows Live as well as Windows Vista, and she may well be right. But I use Vista. I use Windows Mobile. I use Windows Live. And using ’em all just doesn’t deliver an experience that’s better than choosing the best products and services you can find and making them work together, regardless of whether they hail from Redmond and have “Windows” in their name. Isn’t actually a point in Windows favor that you don’t need to use it everywhere?

12. The real way to tear down walls is to build stuff for the Web, not for a particular OS. As I’ve written before, in many ways Firefox is my platform these days–and since I can do nearly anything worth doing on the Web in Firefox on either a Windows PC or a Mac, I sometimes forget which OS I’m using. It simply doesn’t matter as much as it once did. That’s a story about Windows and walls, and it’s pretty exciting. Too bad it wouldn’t make for a very good Windows ad!

13. To what degree will these be Vista ads? The immediate goal, of course, is to move copies of Vista and PCs that run the OS. But I think there are signs that Microsoft is already trying to move past Vista and prepare itself for a Windows 7 launch that goes better than Vista’s spotty history to date. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the ads feel more like they’re about improving Windows’ image in general than bolstering Vista specifically–and if Microsoft sees them as an early salvo in the Windows 7 rollout, even though the chances of the ads mentioning Windows 7 directly are less than nil.

14. Will Microsoft address the Apple issue in these ads? Explicitly, probably not; implicitly, maybe. You could argue that it doesn’t need to–the percentage of computer users who use a Mac or are even considering one is dwarfed by that which never will. But taking Apple on in some fashion may prove irresistible. Nobody likes to get sucker-punched again and again by a smaller, less successful rival.

15. How would you slam Macs in a Windows ad, anyhow? You could point out the form factors they don’t come in. You could show applications they won’t run (at least not in OS X). You might even use price comparisons to argue that Windows PCs deliver better bang for the buck. All would be legitimate points to raise. I’m guessing, though, that Bill and Jerry won’t bring ’em up, or mention the words “Apple,” Mac,” “OS X,” “Leopard,” or “John Hodgman.”

16. Okay, now I’m having these visions of an anti-Apple Windows ad based on John McCain’s “celebrity” spots. With Vista as McCain and Apple as Obama, of course. “Higher prices…no Blu-Ray support…that’s the real Mac. I’m Windows Vista and I approved this message.”

17. Will Microsoft address the XP issue explicitly? Like it did, at least sort of, in its “Mojave Experiment” online ads? There are far more folks in the world running Windows XP than OS X, so you could argue that any attempt to get people excited about Vista is an implicit attempt to convince them that it’s better than XP. I can’t quite see Gates and Seinfeld even uttering the words “Windows XP,” though?

18. Will Microsoft eat crow? As it’s done, at least sort of, in a page on its Web site that acknowledges that Windows Vista frustrated early adopters? I really can’t see that happening in the new spots, entertaining though it would be to see Bill Gates fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness…

19. Is it possible to make ads that make a compelling, straightforward case for Windows? Sure. If I were making ’em, I would…

–Show cool computers with unique features that are available only with Vista–ones like the HP TouchSmart and Lenovo ThinkPad X300;

–Put the lie to the “Get a Mac” ads’ portrait of the PC as being good only for spreadsheets by showing Windows machines doing cool things with photos, videos, and music–maybe including excellent, Windows-only third-party apps like Nero, since Vista’s bundled media apps aren’t that enthralling;

–mention Blu-Ray, since Macs don’t have it;

–bring up gaming, since the argument for Windows is so overwhelming;

–somehow bring up Vista’s security edge over XP, even though “this product is less unsafe than the product of ours you’re using” isn’t that sexy a pitch.

I have no idea whether Microsoft will bring up any of these genuinely reasonable pro-Windows arguments in the new ads. Knowing $300 million ad budgets and Microsoft advertising in general, though, I think there’s a strong chance that the ads will be focus on fluffy, feel-good platitudes and/or make pro-Windows arguments that will be easy to poke holes in.

20. Getting people excited about Windows is hard. Really hard. Really, really hard. For an array of reasons, only some of which involve the product’s shortcomings. (Hey, it’s inherently easier to market an alternative choice like a Mac than a default one, like a Windows box.) So I have a hard time imagining any Windows ads being extraordinarily successful, or turning Windows skeptics into believers. And I’m certainly not alone. Maybe in a small way, that’ll turn out to be an advantage for this campaign: If your expectations for Windows advertising are low in the first place, the ads won’t have to be masterpieces to be better than you anticipated.

Okay, I’m done for now. Got any thoughts about any of the above, or new fodder for discussion? I’m all ears…

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12 Comments For This Post

  1. Otis B. Driftwood Says:

    Mr. Jobs, tear down these walls!

  2. David Gerard Says:

    I can think of a much more appropriate choice.

  3. Curtis Thomas Says:

    I do enjoy the McCain-Windows to Obama-Mac comparison… but does that ultimately make Ron Paul the Linux of Washington?

  4. tripfoster Says:

    i have similar thoughts here:
    http://life2beta.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/so-microsoft-and-seinfeld-have-officially-jumped-the-shark/

  5. David Speiser Says:

    Hey Harry,

    No. 9 was the most telling for me. A mass consumer product with a shrinking audience, one that’s *trying* to appeal to an ever-widening audience, should not be using tech-heavy jargon (I’m assuming “walls” refers to the concept of a “walled-garden.” I’m astounded by the bad decisions, and presumably lousy guidance and advice they’re receiving.

    I guess when you’re the size of MS, with that much infrastructure to wade through and direct, it’s challenging to be nimble and innovative. Still, this whole slogan and celebrity spokesperson seems ill-conceived to me (at least, prior to actually seeing the campaign.)

  6. Thinker Says:

    I second the enjoyment of the McCain-Windows to Obama-Mac comparison.

    I was a PC user for YEARS, and just recently switched to Mac – but I haven’t looked back since. Apple’s offerings are just more fun to use and nicer to look at. Plus, like the ads say, they “just work” right out of the box. Even though I’m a power user, I enjoy the simplicity offered by the Mac OS.

    I still run Windows XP via Boot Camp on my iMac for gaming though. Maybe that is a hook that Microsoft can use?

  7. Charles Forsythe Says:

    The Windows/Walls metaphor is perhaps the worst idea I’ve heard since Dennis Kucinich said he’s share a ticket with Ron Paul.

    First of all, walls are a prerequisite for windows. A window without a wall is just a piece of glass.

    Taking this further, windows relieve us of some of the drawbacks of walls (blocking natural light, nice views or ventilation) allowing us to enjoy the benefits of walls (shelter, security, or organization of space).

    Windows don’t eliminate walls, they improve walls, making them more widely used. Perhaps this is a tacit admission of point #10. Windows don’t get rid of the walls, they just make them invisible.

  8. Cam Smith Says:

    Steve Jobs couldn’t have dreamed of a better Apple adoption accelerator than Bill Gates promoting Vista. Essentially what Microsoft is saying is; yes Vista was a steaming turd that nobody could or would use but now two years later you have no choice and a few things work some of the time now that we’ve fixed Vista. Yes were just mimicking Apple’s innovations and yes we do a horrible job of it as always, but please we’re really desperate and too stupid to know any better than to beg, so please please please just continue to blindly accept our mediocrity and stay on the virus platform so we can make money and stay in business.

  9. Brenda Says:

    Windows without walls are just a heap of shattered glass revealing the fake view of the world Microsoft wants you to continue to believe in. Microsoft advertising has always had the depth and appeal of a used car salesman who doesn’t get that the advertising is a joke and is over the top ONLY to gain name recognition. Well everybody already knows Microsoft is shit, there’s no need to spend $300M to drive the point home.

  10. Dave S. Says:

    I gotta agree with Otis at the top. The choice of Seinfeld is perfect. Reruns of his sitcom still come on 3-4 times a day! High school kids now still talk about episodes and the cult phenomenon has not faded away from Seinfeld. Besides, the demographic that Microsoft is trying to target is not the young, hip, trendy technorati people. It’s the forty-somethings, the families, the small business owners, the IT guys that they want to bring in. Seinfeld is the icon for that demographic, I think.

  11. Paul Says:

    Are they really going to create a tv character out of gates?
    Is the attempt is to replace the Apple’s PC Guy with the a more positive PC guy (gates)?
    I feel that they have wildly overestimated the success of the Apple ads.
    Apple are succeeding by creating and marketing compelling product.
    Once Microsoft do the same they won’t need to waste time and money on this drivel.

  12. Noah Martin Says:

    Queen Latifah is both a great singer and actress, i love this girl.-,-

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