Microsoft's New Windows Ads: They're a Trap! Bwahahahahahahah!

By  |  Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm

mousetrapCan we all agree that it’s always a bad idea to mistake advertising for rational discourse? Axe deodorant won’t cause armies of gorgeous women to throw themselves at your feet. I know of no evidence that cows who live in California are any happier than those in other states, nor that their mood impacts the quality of their milk. Cigarette companies would still be claiming that their products were good for your throat if they could get away with it. After thirty years, I’m still unclear about the benefits of being a Pepper. That’s all fine. (Okay, not the part about the cigarette ads.)

So I haven’t taken Microsoft’s new ads with shoppers spurning Macs for HP laptops too seriously. Mostly I’ve mused about why they seem to ignore Microsoft’s own contribution to the PC and used them as a springboard for PC-Mac price comparisons of my own. (I’m happy to say that these posts have prompted dozens of comments by members of the Technologizer community cogently taking both pro-Windows and pro-Mac stances–they make for great reading.)

Now Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt, in a post titled “Is the Apple press falling into Microsoft’s trap?“, is wondering whether I’ve been duped by Redmond. He notes a story by Newsweek’s Dan Lyons that says that Microsoft hoped to inspire “ugly attacks by Mac fanboys” with the ads. I know that Elmer-DeWitt has me in mind, because…well he quotes my post about the “Giampaolo” ad that debuted yesterday.

Hmmm. I like Elmer-DeWitt’s blog, but I wince at being called part of the “Apple press.” Whether you agree with my conclusions or think they’re nutty–and lord knows, there seem to be plenty of people in both camps–I’m trying my level best to be objective. Besides, I’m the only tech journalist I know who resigned from a cool job when I was told I had to be careful about annoying Apple.

Anyhow, I don’t feel duped by Microsoft. It’s clear the company wants to provoke debate, and that it’s happy casting itself as the choice of ordinary people rather than the slick aesthetes who supposedly buy Macs. It’s doing a good job of reminding the world that there’ a profusion of Windows machines of every sort, at every price point, and a limited range of Macs at high starting prices. And if there’s any question about whether it’s attempting to tick off Mac fans or not, it’s answered in Lyons’ piece by Microsoft marketing honcho David Webster’s quotes in Lyons’ Newsweek piece: He complains that Apple’s ads are mean-spirited, then says “Not everyone wants a machine that’s been washed with unicorn tears.” Mean-spirited Apple advertising message, meet mean-spirited Microsoft marketing message.

(Side note: I’ve griped myself in the past that some of the talking points in Apple’s “Get a Mac” ads are silly and unfair, especially the repeated notion that Windows PCs are good mostly for spreadsheets and other prosaic business tasks.)

I’ve repeatedly asked why the ads ignore Windows itself, and several commenters have responded by saying that people buy computers, not OSes. (Mary-Jo Foley makes the same point here.) To clarify, I not only get that, but agree that it makes a lot of sense for Microsoft ads to be about PCs, not an operating system. It’s just that if I were giving advice to “Laptop Hunters” shoppers Lauren and Giampaolo, I’d tell them that most of the difference between a Windows PC and a Mac relates to the software they come with, not the hardware. Microsoft’s ads, however, seem to be saying either that Windows and OS X are equivalent or that operating systems are irrelevant. But hey, didn’t I say it’s a lousy idea to take the messages in ads very seriously?

But here’s another issue I’m still confused about that’s about marketing, not technology: Why is it worth Microsoft’s while to center its advertising on the PC-vs.-Mac question? Are there really computer buyers out there who purchase Macs because they’ve somehow failed to notice that well-equipped Windows machines are available for a lot less money? (If so, there can’t be very many of them–Windows’ overwhelming market share would seem to show that the vast majority of buyers understand this fact already.)

Have Apple’s PC-bashing ads rattled Microsoft so much that it’s been distracted into a pissing match that won’t help it sell copies of Windows? Aren’t the people in America who are considering buying either a Windows PC or a Mac dramatically outnumbered by those who are hanging onto aging Windows computers that are nowhere near as good as new ones? Wouldn’t Microsoft get more bang for its advertising buck by addressing these consumers rather than potential switchers to the Mac? I ask these questions not because I’m a Microsoft basher, but because I’m genuinely confused. Maybe Microsoft’s just happy to have people talking about its ads without hating them, and to have them come away with a reasonably positive message about the systems that run its software.

Other theories welcome. And actually, I’m inquiring with Microsoft about whether I can interview someone from the company about the ads so I can stop wondering and get answers straight from the source. I’ll let you know whether it’s receptive to the idea.


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17 Comments For This Post

  1. Matthias Says:

    I'm open to other hardware, but everytime I think about the OS options I'll scurry back to OS X – there really is nothing like it. Ultimately you spend your time on the OS, so that's the big deal.

  2. Muay Thai Says:

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  3. Mike from Vashon Says:

    People claim that people don’t buy an OS? I seriously don’t think that’s true, because lots of people go out of their way to not buy Vista. Customers run for the hills if someone mentions Vista. Imagine what happens if the ads were to mention “AND IT COMES WITH VISTA!!”

    We know how ads work: they sell what sells, and pointedly don’t mention what will unsell.

    MS mentions Apple by name and not a half-dozen other brands that come with Windows for a different reason: provoking viral advertising in blogs and blog comments.

    Microsoft can’t start selling Windows 7 soon enough. They want to sell their OS again (even tho “people don’t buy OSs.” Yeah, sure, pull the other one.) In the meantime, Microsoft talks up the good parts: a large variety of “PC” machines, some of which have low price points. Low prices seem to be important in this economy; if Detroit could figure out how to build a nice car that sells for six thousand dollars, it would probably sell; meanwhile, people look to the used car lots.

    I think Microsoft would have a better ad if they just showed people how to properly buy a computer. Running from store to store looking at different machines is an approach that wears you down in no time and opens you up to frustration and bad decisions.

    I don’t mind them trying to tweek Apple. When Apple sells machines, Microsoft sooner or later sells Microsoft Office.

  4. Josh Says:

    Geez. All of this bickering from both sides is really annoying. The debate is ridiculous. How about you buy what you like, I’ll buy what I like, and we don’t have to read a thousand angry rants every day about who owns who.

    I think I’ll take a look at Linux again. At least then I don’t have to fuss with Windows and submit to Microsoft’s belief that “all our base are belong to them,” and I won’t have to fear being brow-beaten in a meeting because my MacBook makes me look effeminate… you know, with unicorn tears and all.

  5. tom b Says:

    “I’ve repeatedly asked why the ads ignore Windows itself, and several commenters have responded by saying that people buy computers, not OSes.”

    What a stupid concept! Using Windows opens you up to all kinds of performance and security issues.

    Moreover, it is NOT the case that all OS’s are more or less equal, however much MSFT may wish this to be true. Apple took the time to upgrade to UNIX; to create a 21st century dev environment; and to make their systems simple, reliable, and secure. MSFT did NONE of these things and is now paying the price. Early reviews of Win 7 suggest that it may be closer to XP than Vista in terms of acceptability, but let’s be realistic here: the best thing you say about XP (which I have used a lot) is that it was more stable than Win2000. That’s hardly a glowing endorsement.

  6. Gustavo Says:

    Windows Runs on Macs so why doesn’t Microsoft sell that point. If PC still sell and n% of mac users install Windows at full price, that makes $$$ for MS. Maybe they just need to fulfill some agreement with PC manufactures.

  7. Jon T Says:

    I don’t like the people who say that the debate is bad, or annoying. Since when was it bad to take sides? Next, these people will be saying you can’t take sides between good and evil, for fear of upsetting someone. Political correctness of the tree huggers gone nuts if you ask me.

    And yes, Microsoft is dragging itself into a bigger mess it can do without. It’s swapping a (doubtful) short term gain for the high ground which it’s conceding to Apple. Microsoft needs to fix things, not get irritable with other companies’ successes.

    And yes again, the ads irritate me. Mainly because the latest actor says he’s IT savvy, yet within a few seconds proves he he is far from it. And, as Microsoft well knows, most people are NOT It savvy and have the wool pulled firmly over their eyes by this ad. Shame on you Microsoft. But then you were ever thus…

  8. Jake Says:

    I think they’re an attempt at brand-loyalty ads–ads aimed at confirming existing customers as much as attracting new ones. In that sense, they *are* targeting the customers who need new PCs. Who enjoyed the “I’m a Mac” ads more than existing Mac owners? By positioning itself as the hip, funny computer, Apple enticed some switchers but also solidified its existing customer base. Windows doesn’t need switchers (and there aren’t that many to get anyway). It needs people who are happy to be PCs. Since they can’t be cool, they can be anti-cool; they can be too cool to worry about being cool. Hence, Lauren and Gianpaolo: obviously cool, but unselfconsciously so. (Lauren even says it explicitly.) They make PC owners feel proud of being PC owners, and you can see it in the comments to the various columns about the ads.

  9. JS Says:

    Apple doesn’t sell low end PC’s…simple as that. That is why there are PC’s that are in all different price ranges. Truth is you get what you pay for:

  10. Lemurs Says:

    How silly. Microsoft is establishing it’s brand, not the Windows brand. The message here is simple: “We’re Microsoft. Microsoft is PC’s. Buy a PC.” You’re ignoring that Microsoft has already claimed PC for itself. It’s PC’s versus Macs, not Windows versus OSX. If Linux were a real contender in this space, you might have something, but it’s not.

    All Microsoft has to do is establish that PCs are a good value, and Windows gets the halo effect. This is so easy to see, but tech writers get bogged down in the technology. Microsoft makes money when it’s partners sell products. Rising tides float all boats…

  11. topchat Says:

    PC versus Mac ads are so yesterday! But MS has to do something if Gartner’s forecasts are likely true about reduced PC sales. And picking up the baton, from where Apple left it, seemed like a good idea.

    But Apple hasn’t aired a new ‘I’m a PC, I’m a Mac’ ad in quite a while and given Apple’s marketing nous you might ask why that might be so in a difficult market. I’d suggest that Apple concluded that ad’s for computers at this time was wasting money when people have difficult choices to make – many just wait until times get better.

    Apple, unlike most other PC makers has a couple of other product lines to fall back on – iPods/iTunes and iPhones/iPhone Apps. And with plenty of free advertising driven by a new phone and new phone software, Apple is getting tons of exposure that MS isn’t getting with Windows 7, no matter how promising this looks.

    In these times what looks more attractive, selling an extra 10,000 Macs worldwide or selling millions of iPhones to China? Bit of a no-brainer, isn’t it?

  12. A PC/Mac Guy Says:

    I get so tired of this stuff – but yet I still comment – ( Moth to a Flame ).
    Advertising is what it is – Apple and Microsoft throw their money at whatever they think may work – keeps those in the Advertising Industry drawing a paycheck.
    MS sells to hardware (PC) vendors – Apple sells to End-User’s – enough has been said about that relationship – Windows machines are good values for those on a budget and have relatives, etc. that can help support them – Mac’s are good values for those who can amortize the up-front cost, but pass them on to friends and family once the “hardware specifications” aren’t up to the latest performance metrics to play yet-another-first-person-shooter.
    I am so tired of cheap/choice/build it your own stuff – If you have the time, you probably aren’t gainfully employed – Maybe you are, but then – maybe you aren’t married, have children in college, etc. – Get out of the “computer cellar” – There is a real world where people just purchase something that helps them to get their job done – saving money makes good sense, but criticizing people who just spend their money to do their job and go on, makes no sense at all – Pay to play … or just surf the net while you play –

  13. Jeff Says:

    It is about the OS. Sorry.
    I came back to Macs after years of ineptitude on Windows machines – either due to crashes or viruses. I visited a computer store the other day and was disappointed I couldn’t find a netbook with Linux on it. I won’t buy a PC no matter what flavor of Windows Microsoft sports.

  14. mpr Says:

    Microsoft does not believe a rising tide floats all boats. Microsoft is used to it’s monopoly so when they see their share price flat and marketshare declining and Apple hitting a home run with the iPhone they get crazy.

    What Microsoft should do: forget those idiot Apple switchers, concentrate on delivering the best service to your *existing* customers and not only will those customers stay with you … they will bring along their friends! Microsoft now has an annual R&D budget of $9 billion (yes, nine billion dollars), so how can they fail?

    One reason: Ballmer is an arrogant *******

  15. hawkins44 Says:

    Microsoft is always three years late. Apple vs Mac commercials have been off the air for a year and now Microsoft comes up with a lame attempt to be disruptive. The fact of the matter is people that buy Mac’s understand the 20-30% premium is well spent money because it’s more reliable hardware/OS and will last longer than the equivalent PC. This advertising campaign does nothing to change this notion. Apple is not and will not ever be for “everybody”. If anything Microsoft has opened themselves up for more ridicule with this trite message…..

  16. LoL Says:

    There is a reason 90% of users are on a PC, and less than 10% are on a Mac.

    There is also a reason 90% of Mac users have Windows installed on their system as well.

    Apple and Steve Jobs are greedy wh0res that don’t know how to do business. They have a great product but they are unwilling and too arrogant to win this battle. And that is why Steve is going to do with Apple what he did to NeXtstep – bury it under the ground because of his arrogance – and all the embarrassed Steve Jobs worshipers will follow them to the grave…

    Then, unfortunately, we will all be stuck under the corporate thumb of Bill. (But by then MS will pretty much be an exact replica of OSX, without all the compatibility issues, so everyone wins.)

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