Microsoft tries to keep it simple, stupid

While Microsoft’s Windows still dominates as consumers’ preferred operating system, it will need its latest global ad campaign to help it fight even harder to take the spotlight from consumer darling, Apple, and soon from search engine giant Google.

Camille Alarcon

Microsoft is taking a noticeably different marketing approach to support the launch of Windows 7, compared to its predecessor Windows Vista. While the campaign for the latter was “all about Microsoft” and targeting businesses, the messaging around Windows 7 will be more about the consumer, according to Microsoft consumer online marketing officer, Mike Fischer.

Internally at the technology giant’s headquarters, the next 12 months have been dubbed “the year of the consumer”.

While such a strategy is nothing new – think Yahoo!’s “It’s Y!ou” campaign and Vodafone’s latest push, the key for Microsoft will be communicating to consumers that Windows 7 is in fact better than Vista.

Media Contacts head of technology Daniel de Sybel says: “Focussing on the consumer is the right way to go for the new operating system. Microsoft has a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to win after the disaster that was Vista.”

Indeed, research firm Forrester found in a survey of 655 businesses in North America and Europe, that despite the fact that Vista has been available for two and a half years, 81% using PCs are still running Windows XP.

Microsoft is already looking over its shoulder in anticipation of the launch of Google’s Chrome OS.

Then of course there’s Apple which recently unveiled its Snow Leopard system. This week it announced bumper financial results, with a net profit rise of 47% to $1.67bn (£1bn) in the three months to 26 September.

There is no doubt that Apple is winning the popularity stakes if you believe the latest Superbrands CoolBrands survey.

It dominated this year with three of the top five spots held by the iPhone (1), iPod (4) and the technology giant’s parent brand in the third spot.

OMD head of digital Will Smyth says: “All Apple’s products are massively focused around people. Their iphones don’t even include an instruction manual – its totally intuitive. So absolute ease of use for consumers is massively important.”

Microsoft UK Ashley Highfield managing director and VP of consumer and online, says the key message it is conveying to consumers it that Windows 7 is easier to use, has better functionality and is faster than the Vista. Its new ads shows users stating: “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea”.

Encouragingly for Microsoft, in the same Forrester survey, 53% of the UK decision makers polled said that they planned to run Windows 7 within a year.

De Sybal points out that the issue with Apple is that its computers cost around 50% more than the equivalent PC and they don’t support Leopard on non-Apple hardware. Similarly, Google’s Chrome OS will only work on netbooks, at least initially, which means that the immediate threat to Microsoft will be relatively small.

With all this in mind, perhaps Microsoft’s biggest competitor right now is in fact itself, as it tries to convince consumers that it has come up with an operating system that can better its widely successful, though now ageing, Windows XP.

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