Fast Company: Making Microsoft Cool
There's an article in June's issue of Fast Company (actually the cover story) about Microsoft's new ad agency, hired specifically to do a "hit" on Apple in retaliation for the PC vs. Mac ad campaign. I found that it just proved the point again that Microsoft is unable to compete on the merits of its products and must resort to marketing and branding to sell itself.
A few excerpts:
It spent two years and $500 million on the media blitz around the long-delayed Windows Vista launch, only to see the January 2007 "Wow" campaign, which likened Microsoft's new operating system to Woodstock and the fall of the Berlin Wall, derided as arrogant and creatively void. Vista itself sold poorly, leading to price cuts of up to 40%. Worst of all, the flop bred a new generation of Microsoft haters.
I think it was less the avertising campaign and more the fact that Vista really did stink and still does. No advertising is going to improve on that.
Nothing is doing more to carve away at Microsoft's reputation -- and contribute to its loss of market share -- than the assault launched by Apple two years ago in the form of the "Mac vs. PC" spots featuring The Daily Show satirist John Hodgman.
I think this gives Apple's advertising more credit than it's due. Nothing is doing more to carve away at Microsoft's reputation than Microsoft's own inability to execute. The Apple ads just remind people of what they already know about Windows and PCs. Microsoft can't respond directly because what the ads say is true - all they can do is run vague advertising with people flying through the air or singing in a circle around their X-Box 360.
"You've got a lot of passionate Mac people in here, and they've got to get their head around this thing -- why Windows is genius," says Keller. He and Reilly have outfitted their shared office (inherited from Bogusky) with an Xbox 360, which they've been using as a wireless hub. But their joint desk also holds two ultrathin MacBook Airs.
So basically: "Erm, it's genius because... they paid us to say it is? We wouldn't know, we don't use Windows in our own facility because it's not adequate for what we do but we're sure there are plenty of less demanding people who will buy it if we tell them to in a cool enough way. Just throw more marketing money at the problem and it will eventually fix itself."
There's a quote on the magazine cover (but not in the actual article) where Bogusky says "We're mercenaries. You can pay us to go after anyody."
Not because we want to, not because we use the company's products, not because they have a cool factor (because none of that applies) but because they threw a crapload of cash at us and we have our own stockholders to keep happy.
When I ask if they're making their team get rid of their iPods and PowerBooks, Reilly responds, "It's not a matter of forcing people. It's getting them to want to use it. If you can't, you're not going to do great advertising."
And the best way of convincing people to use something is for it to be desirable and easy/fun to use, instead of just advertising them into thinking it is... Even a company being paid $300 million dollars to promote Microsoft isn't going to use Microsoft products in its own shop because they would be shooting themselves in the foot by doing so.
This is the ultimate contrast. Apple creates great products and highlights them with sharp advertising, Microsoft continues to release mediocre products and tries to hide/fix that by throwing more cash into commercials. If you want to know which approach is best, compare the two companies' stock prices over the last 10 years.
(I am long Apple in my real portfolio and on Caps, I have MSFT set to underperform on Caps. I don't subscribe to Fast Company because it's not that great, my girlfriend gets them free and saves them for me.)