Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Microsoft's Windows 7 Advertisement - A solution to Vista and an answer to Apple found in quirky simplicity

      I've always loved Microsoft advertising, its probably a personality quirk,though I can't say this translates to all of its software and hardware products. While Apple gets to be the cool kids of the "major players in the technology sector", Microsoft simultaneously fills the roles of the geeky iconoclast, too wrapped up in his work to care, and of the earnest traditionalist, too big/hard working/naive to compete efficiently on coolness. Its because of these deeply held brand images, that I was pleasantly surprised by the new Windows 7 ad from Microsoft & C+P+B (and not just for the ending musical selection). Check out the ad for yourself below and then my thoughts on why it stood out to me.


Background
 
     Nowhere was this divide more typified than in the popular "I'm a Mac" campaign by TBWA/Media Arts Lab, which spawned over 65 ads in the US, UK & Japan on TV and the Web. The US version shown below, painted Microsoft Windows/PC (John Hodgeman) as a person embodying the traits of Microsoft as described above, while portraying Mac (Justin Long) as expectantly hipster-ish  and trendy.
My favorite advertisement of the campaign - Doesn't everyone want to learn C++ around the holidays (or VB)?

    
     As the ad above from the campaign shows (along with other brilliant tie ins and cameos), Apple really hits its mark on representing its brand image (something that has already been justifiably celebrated ad-nauseum) with all of this expansive campaign. At the same time however, it seemed to open the door for the PC and simultaneously, Microsoft to define its own defensible position. Just as everyone wants to identify with the Mac as the slightly scruffy/intrinsically self-defined type (off to do interesting things in trendy parts of the city with a camcorder and his record collection), we all also have a part of us (no matter how repressed or hidden in some) that identifies fully with the PC. If anything from the ads really worked in Microsoft's favor, it was Apple's reticence to make the caricature of the PC too hateful, lest alienating their audience. This allowed a subtle and relatable duality to form. 
    

     The PC represents not only obligation and responsibility, but earnestness, hard work and a naivete that in a sense transcends cool. While this duality might not come across well in the Apple produced commercials above, it strikes a cord with some and defines the differences between not only traditional Apple vs. Windows users (stereotypically a battle of functional style over functional substance) but also of analytical responsibility vs. carefree expression found in human personality (or atleast in my own).


Prelude to the current Microsoft Advertising Response
     Microsoft tried various responses to the success of the "I'm a Mac campaign" with varying degrees of success and surrealness. It's first attempt, a pairing of Jerry Seinfield and Bill Gates traveling the country, was one of the odder things I've seen. The presence of Bill Gates maintained the nerdy/earnest aspect of PC, while the interaction with Seinfield gave the advertisements a noticeably interesting appeal, but it lacked any strong distinction to Apple's product offering.
   
     Microsoft's next attempt, "I'm a PC", took the lack of distinction drawn from Apple in the previous advertisements and improved upon it. Showing various cuts of PC users claiming their identity as such, the advertisements attempted to distil the quirky/nerdy image used by Apple's PC portrayal into an everyman response. They attempt to claim that if Apple users are a niche subset of trendy computer users, PCs are instead the tool of everyone else doing a variety of activities. The current Windows 7 advertisement is an extension of this campaign, as the girl featured has been in a previous advertisement. 
Concurrently to these campaigns, Microsoft also tried two other notable pieces of communication: "The Mojave Experiement" and "Laptop Hunters".

      The Mojave Experiment attempted to tackle user rejection of the Vista operating system through the production of an ad featuring "hidden camera" interviews. Interviewees were shown an operating system, "Mojave", which was actually Vista and then told to give their impressions of it. Predictably, after trying Mojave, users found it much more useful than their view of what Vista was like. While the attempted message was to directly rebut stereotypes of Vista, it instead seemed to take the view that user perceptions are wrong and baseless, waiting to be refuted by a much more experienced and intelligent body (the producer). This view seems to counteract the good will built up by the earnest/nerdy figure of Microsoft shown earlier and the everyman put forth by "I'm a PC".

      "Laptop Hunters" was another directed campaign, put forth to attack Apple on a vulnerable point, price. Macs by default have had a hard time competing with other laptop makers on price and the campaign attempted to highlight this through giving everyday people various amounts of money to purchase a PC. Splicing this through multiple monetary amounts, the ads highlighted the hardware capabilities that could be purchased from a PC vs. possibly a Mac of the same price. In this subtle attack, Microsoft seemed to merge together their ideas of "I'm a PC" populism with value, once again eschewing the nerdy/quirky image for a directed message and effect.


Why I Love the Current Ad and How it Relates to These


    One of the reasons I love the Windows 7 ad mentioned in the beginning is that Microsoft and C+P+B blend together strands of all of the aforementioned campaigns. Through the opening of the advertisement, the distinction between Windows Vista and the upcoming Windows 7 is drawn clearly and quickly. It shows that while consumers hated/feared Vista (I'm still using XP at home & work), Windows 7 will be different. The use of 3rd party recommendations lends an element of truth to this and continues through the commercial; just as with the Mojave experiment, they attempt to say, "Don't take our word for it, listen to others."

    While the initial point is to sell Windows 7, the advertisement does it in such a way that it also promotes PCs and Microsoft as a whole. The use of the little girl draws out the "I'm a PC" campaign elements in such a way that people can find it endearing or engaging, while her demeanor makes it non-threatening and a soft sell.

     Perhaps my favorite point of the ad however, is the slideshow finale. Aside from what is, I believe, a step towards fixing the underuse of Europe's final countdown in all creative media, it borrows on the quirky/nerdy flavor of the original PC embodiment to entertain. The presentation clipart is just weird enough to not be childish, but instead promotes a sense of interest and bemusement. Its almost as if the ad borrows from various internet memes just enough to subtly say, "Here's a rabbit with a pancake on its head, buy a PC!" It creates a spectacle in the same way that a person driving a van with a spraypainted mural of Led Zepplin coverart on the side might, but trading the societal disdain for more third party reviews. Finally, it seems to dig at a previous "I'm a Mac" ad by showing that a young child can use a PC to make a slide show, something that was previously touted to be easier on a Mac.

Overall, the advertisement creates an entertaining and effective presentation of Microsoft's direct points:
  • That PCs work well and exhibit as small of a learning curve as Macs,
  • that the people using them are just as interesting or hip as Apple users in their own way
  • and that Windows 7 won't be rubbish (or atleast as rubbish as Vista).
True, it might err on the side of technically simplified (which is fine as most technical users are already sold on Windows 7 or using the RTM) and sacchrine (the kid's lisp is a tad disney movie-ish), but it proves to be an interesting synthesis of earnest/weird/engaging and funny.

What are your thoughts on it?

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