If you haven’t read Rob Walker’s book Buying In, you should. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time.
In the book, Rob does a much better job than I ever could and describing a fundamental paradox we have in our society: The desire to be individuals, yet still belong to something bigger than ourselves.
And therein lies the clue to why Microsoft’s new ad campaign fails. Miserably.
The “I’m a Mac” commercials worked because they defined a segment for Mac aficionados to identify with. It resonated with peoples’ desire to be individuals, yet helped to define an “us” (Apple users) and “them” (PC users). People just love being part of an “us” — especially when they perceive that “us” to be a special minority, cast as the underdogs.
The Microsoft commercials go in the exact opposite direction. First, by trying to cast Bill Gates as an “everyman”. Instead of trying to get PC users to associate themselves with a particular segment of the population, the ads try to associate Gates with the population. Ho hum. First rule of marketing: It’s all about ME (the customer), not about you.
The most recent ads (at least that I’ve seen) show people from different walks of life claiming to be “Microsoft.” Listen up, Microsoft: We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, but we don’t want to be part of — nor do we identify — with everybody.
Connecting with your target market is about understanding their individuality in the context of the group of individuals most like them. (This, by the way, is why a million different social network can bloom. At some point, a “network” like Facebook only really becomes a platform for a million little social networks). Apple’s ads succeeded at doing this. The Microsoft ads fail — miserably.