“Microsoft needs to reset itself to compete in the 21st Century, which promises to be the most painful thing it has done in its decades-long existence.” Matt Asay, CNET
What boggles the collective mind more than anything else is why Microsoft never gets it right when its corporate rump is on the line as in the internecine ad wars between it and Apple. The more mystical among the Apple faithful might put it down to some kind of Cosmic Karma; an idea which has as good a chance as any of taking root absent some plausible explanation as to why Microsoft shoots itself in the foot each and every time it squares off against the Cupertino-based challenger.
Let’s take the most recent example as a case in point: Microsoft’s “I’m a PC ad” starring an actress named Lauren De Long, masquerading as a hapless customer.
Hot Chickadee: Lauren De Long heating up (and warping) the rails in this form-fitting top and blue jeans. This appears to be a portfolio shot taken some time before the whimsical redhead morphed into Microsoft Lauren - fried frizzly hair and all.
The question of whether Lauren De Long has become the “Joe the plumber” of the ad wars between Microsoft and Apple is rhetorical at this point. More than an unwitting dupe, Lauren is a giggly accomplice in a ruse by a giant whose marketing ineptitude is only matched by its tech foibles. Lauren wins free publicity. Microsoft loses more credibility …. again. Tell me something new. Yawn.
Ad Story Line: Lauren is a hapless customer in search of a 17 inch laptop below $1000 (an apparent dig at the 17 inch Macbook unibody which, at the time of the ad, was selling in excess of $2,500. The ad also refers to a $2000 Macbook Pro, versions of which have since been lowered to under $2000, thereby leading to threats of an Apple lawsuit which led Microsoft to cut out the reference to price in subsequent ads. What a war! What a war!)
Lauren suggests that she is going into an Apple Store, and appears to come out with nothing before finding a $699 HP laptop in a Best Buys-look-alike store. (Critics point out that there is no evidence that she actually went into that store which she wrongly identifies as a Mac store.)
When the Lauren ads first hit the airwaves there was a collective gasp and stir, similar to when Sarah Palin first hit the national stage in the 2008 presidential election. Perhaps Microsoft had gotten it right this time people thought! But the problem of the new ad soon became apparent: The sales pitch was not as finely tuned as to compare apples with Apples and the customer in the ad was as fake as a vaudevillian in classic black face. Lauren won’t even tell the world how well she fared with her $699 laptop, thanks to a non-disclosure agreement she signed with Microsoft and or the advertiser. Oi Vei!
The new campaign by Crispin Porter + Bogusky (Interesting name, that Mr. Bogusky) is a curious echo of the Chunky Charlie MS Butterfly campaign by McCann Erickson Worldwide. After making crappy, buggy software, does Microsoft look for the worst ad agencies to plug its crappy softwares? Don’t answer that.
The problems with the Microsoft Lauren campaign are so myriad we will not count all the ways:
1. Do not lie to people. If you are gonna use randomly chosen customers off of Craigslist, make sure you do just that. Nothing complicated here. That, in and of itself, would have eliminated Lauren, at least by dint of the integrity. Did we say integrity?
2. If you want to project genuineness, pick a natural redhead with a clean coif. Lauren De Long looked like she had been attacked by the a feral cat before her dye job had had a chance to be dried.
3. Competing on price and price alone is the equivalent of (Microsoft and its PC cohorts) throwing in the towel on the issue of quality, style, value and ease of use in its fight with Apple. Think the computer equivalent of the domestic vs foreign autos debate. Just as in the latter, there is a reason why Macs sell and hold their value better than PCs.
4. Microsoft insults people’s intelligence with the Lauren argument. There are more factors (that go into buying a laptop than mere price. These include Microsoft’s product history. Think Microsoft’s most recent egg, the Vista operating system. Microsoft should be dealing with that instead of churning out terminally lame ads.
3. The Lauren ad is all over the place with no zinger of the order of “Where is the beef?”. By the time we get to the PC store scene, the ad is beginning to feel like a mini infomercial.
5. Lauren’s line, “I guess I am not cool enough for a Mac” is a contrived piece of crap calculated to wring the last dollop of mawkishness out of the gonzo script.
6. As the Geek Whisperer astutely points out, the ad inadvertently degrades the value of a PC by insinuating that “PCs are the computer you buy when times are rough… like now. But in the future the economy won’t be in the dumps (hopefully sooner than later).” Point made and case closed.
The Apple Insider’s take on this is interesting, if not instructive. Read this and be your own judge as to who is feeding you cant. You can read the entire article with vids, pics and graphs on the Apple Insider here:
“Shopping for hardware: The new ads don’t go into details on hardware purchases; they simply make the case that PC laptops can be found for cheaper, playing up tight funds in the tough economy. Best Buy actually does sell the DV7-1245DX, an HP notebook with 17″ screen, but it lacks fast wireless 902.11n, fast Gigabit Ethernet, digital audio inputs and outputs, weighs 7.75 pounds, and only features the screen resolution of Apple’s 15″ notebooks: 1440 by 900. Technically, it is a 17″ notebook in terms of size, but it doesn’t have the 17″ resolution of Apple’s MacBook Pro, which is 1920 by 1200.
One HP buyer pointed out that this model series “has the worst screen I have ever seen in my life. It’s the 1440×900 screen and the viewing angles are so poor that even when sitting directly eye level with the screen it is totally washed out. If I go a little bit off-axis the screen results in a negative image. I was using the default settings. Unfortunately I didn’t read reviews before i purchased.”
Shopping for software: More importantly however, the HP notebook runs Windows Vista, rated by ChangeWave as having the lowest operating system satisfaction rating in rankings that were led by Mac OS X Leopard and also included Linux and Windows XP. Many PC makers continue to add a “Windows XP downgrade” as a feature on their new PCs.
This makes it particularly interesting that Microsoft would advertise its product by citing the price of the hardware it runs on, rather than calling attention to any of the features in its own product. It’s not that Microsoft hasn’t tried. Vista’s first “Wow” campaign portrayed customers in a state of pleasant shock when using it.
Shopping for an ad campaign: After those ads collapsed in an avalanche of bad press complaining about arbitrary changes that did not improve anything and software and hardware compatibility problems, Microsoft rolled out the Mojave Experiment, which showed users a “new OS” that was really just a repackaged version of Vista. Those ads attempted to claim that Vista’s bad reputation was all due to customers not giving the system a fair shake, but the ads sidestepped the real problems users were experiencing by not allowing participants to run Vista on their own PC or with their existing software and peripherals.
Microsoft then announced a $300 million campaign to revive the Windows brand by associating it with skits featuring Gates and Seinfeld which promised to “tell the story of Windows.” Instead, the ads were canceled mid-production after being poorly received.
Following that, the company released a “Windows vs Walls” campaign reminiscent of Apple’s Think Different commercials, and then a series of “I’m a PC” ads that tried to defuse Apple’s Get a Mac spots by claiming that generic PCs were empowered to do anything, except of course, producing the ads themselves, as it was embarrassingly revealed that those ads were actually created using Macs.
Promoting cheap: Talking about price during a recession where the global PC market is actually shrinking for the first time ever is probably Microsoft’s best bet in trying to stem the tide of switchers buying Macs. However, the company has to be careful because it’s also competing against free software such as Ubuntu Linux, which also runs on generic PCs. In fact, those PCs get cheaper if they’re sold without Microsoft’s Windows, something the company has worked hard to prevent from happening. “
(Please Note: You can read the entire article with vids, pics and graphs on the Apple Insider here.)
Right next to reinventing itself from the guts, the Microsoft needs to sever its marketing and advertising arm along with crappy ad agencies like McCann Erickson Worldwide, and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. (For insightful analyses of Microsoft’s foibles, articles by Gerry Patterson and Matt Asay under the “Appendices” heading below)
With a $300 million, budget, Microsoft could have done way better. The CNN Money/ Fortune assumption that this lame campaign has put Apple on the defensive is terminally silly.
Post Scriptum. To the bloggers who carp that these ad/PR campaigns are skewered, remember what’s good for the goose is even be better for the gander.
The Microsoft/PC “bashing” ads, if you wanna call them that, have more than a ring of truth to them. They are light-heartedly funny, on top of being sharp, terse and extremely well produced. Watch them here and compare them with the droll Lauren clip. And if that is not enough, go back to the equally droll and mind-numbingly abstruse MS Butterfly campaign.
copyright© 2009 cyberaxis.wordpress.com
Microsoft to attack Mac pricing in new series of TV ad by Prince McLean (Apple Insider, March 26, 2009)
The Future Looks Bright for Microsoft? (Gerry Patterson, PGTS Journal)
Economy’s “fundamental reset” hurts Microsoft’s earnings and future (Matt Asay, CNET)