Why The Microsoft Ads Fail

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.

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9 thoughts on “Why The Microsoft Ads Fail

  1. Indeed, this is at the core of Facebook success… it’s not about the 80 million people network so much as that I can find/put together MY network within the larger network. And I can join multiple subgroups within it. (BarCampBank, MassMoCA fans, TED, Stephen Colbert, Baltimore Orioles, Current TV, etc.)

  2. 1) I thought standard marketing practice for the #1 player in the industry was to never mention #2 in mass-market campaigns (and Microsoft still is in terms of raw installed base and sales, if not by reputation and mindshare).

    2) Completely agree that “a PC” is just too broad, too nebulous and impersonal for people to want to join.

    Fact is, who ever wanted to say they’re a PC? Will the ads change that?

    I love the intent of the ads; Microsoft took Apple head-on in addressing the fact that their products can still be used to create a lot of things in life. But they misjudged the approach.

  3. @Ted: Muwahahahaha! Product quality… oh stop….. I’m laughing too hard. The whole point of the advertising industry is to take lousy products, and — as they say in political circles — put lipstick on the pig. (Note: That was not intended to be a sexist remark, and I apologize to any pigs that might have been offended).

    @Taylor: I enjoyed the ads. Would have liked them better if they made me feel like I was more like Bill Gates than trying to tell me that he’s more like me.

    @Dan: I haven’t been relevant since 1998. Doesn’t stop you from reading this blog, eh? 🙂

  4. With all due respect, how can you say they have failed? or succeeded?

    They made me feel proud that I’m not one of those exclusivist Mac zealots! Just a regular person doing a regular Job, using a PC.

    l don’t need a shiny Mac to make me feel good about what I do. The ads did it for me!

    Anyway good headline…

  5. @Brett Hmmmm…… good point. Well, let’s see, now … oh! I didn’t say they “failed” — I said they “fail” — current tense. As in, “they’re in the process of failing”. 🙂

    But, seriously, you do make a good point. Thanks.

  6. For me, there’s nothing special about being part of the PC/Microsoft community. With Apple, there’s a definite cool factor, being part of the in-crowd, sitting at the cool-kids table, that feeling. These ads don’t have any of that – in fact, I really don’t even get the whole Jerry Seinfeld/Bill Gates thing.

    What I like about the Mac vs PC ads is that Apple knows it’s not for everyone, and they’re not afraid to alienate a huge chunk of the market in an effort to make it REALLY clear who they are for. If that means those who use Apple are cool, and those who don’t, aren’t, then too bad, that’s just how it is. Seems like Microsoft is too scared to say “we’re not for everyone”, but maybe that goes along with being #1.

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