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Some thoughts on the new Microsoft ads

Mel Martin

Well, the new ad blitz from Microsoft has begun. Advertising agency Crispin Porter + Boguksy is back at it with a new web video and click through banners that tell the story of Lauren, a Los Angeles woman (and member of the Screen Actors Guild) who was recruited from Craigslist. She supposedly didn't know she was in a Microsoft ad, but instead thought she was in a laptop marketing test.

She was given a thousand dollars after saying she wanted a 17-inch laptop with a good keyboard. She tried an Apple Store, but couldn't find anything at the price she wanted. She wound up with an HP Pavilion (here are the specs) running Windows Home Premium and a pretty slow AMD processor. She has minimal screen resolution and about 2 1/2 hours of battery life if she's lucky. All in all, not a bad machine, but certainly not a 17" Mac which would have been a lot more money.

Of course the laptops were not comparably equipped, so the cards were stacked in Microsoft's favor. That's what commercials do. Microsoft has been pummeled for more than 3 years by the extremely popular Mac vs. PC guys. Microsoft responded last summer with the Mojave ads, where people were tricked into believing they were seeing a brand new OS from MS, when in fact they were just seeing Vista. They were told about the features, and loved them. What they weren't allowed to do, however, was actually use Vista, or try to install it on their own PCs. Those were telling omissions.

Microsoft followed up with the Jerry Seinfeld-Bill Gates ads. They were fun to watch, but had no discernible message. Interestingly, Vista was never mentioned.

Now we come to the new ads, which doubtless will be followed by more shopping trips. In the first ad, Vista is never mentioned, just like in the Seinfeld commercials. Interesting. MS does not make computer hardware. Instead, their main product is an OS which is currently Vista. Yet in 2 out of 3 'expensive' ads, not a word about the flagship operating system.

I suppose Microsoft has written Vista off as a bad investment, and is moving on to Windows 7. But no matter what you think of Macs or PCs, these ads all reek of desperation. Two out of the three series of promotions are based on Microsoft trying to trick their customers. The Mojave spot admits all the participants in the focus group were being tricked. In the latest ad, Microsoft admits the actress wasn't told she was in a company ad, but was going out to compare laptops in a marketing experiment. I really don't think any commercial that is trying to change customers attitudes should involve conning them or trying to mislead them.

You can buy some nice machines running Windows, of course, but when you try to match spec for spec, the Macs and PCs come quite a bit closer in price. Often the warranty and build quality are better on the Mac, and the Mac is not filled with bloatware that has to be removed.

So what is the message exactly? You can install Vista on some really cheap hardware? If so, what will PC vendors say when they try to sell a top of the line product? Or is the message that the economy is bad, so don't invest in expensive equipment? Don't forget that Windows PCs will need a lifetime subscription to anti-spyware software and virus killers; if you don't buy protect yourself, the OS will nag you each and every time you log in. You could try the free versions, and hope they will do the job. And hey, Microsoft, if Vista is so great, why can't you even mention it in your most recent ads?

Oh, by the way Lauren, you scored a good deal at the Best Buy with your new HP laptop. But from the ad it doesn't look like you paid any sales tax. Tsk tsk.

P.S. For some fun, read the hundreds of comments on our sister site, Engadget.

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