Oct 09

W7: another one of your big ideas

Why Microsoft created their secret Windows 7 commercials will remain a mystery. The real campaign broke on W7 launch day, and the final marketing theme has been revealed. Basically, it’s “you asked for it.”

I may not be a Windows or Microsoft enthusiast, but as a fan of advertising I can’t help feeling that this effort is just an opportunity wasted. A huge, unmistakable, perfect-storm opportunity served up on a silver platter. Hold that thought for a minute.

The “you asked for it” strategy is valid. Not inspiring, but valid. You’ve got a billion potential customers, many of whom felt abused by Vista, and you want them to feel some ownership of Windows 7. It’s not unlike the old creative director’s trick of presenting a new campaign to a client by saying, “At our last meeting, you said something that really got us going…” I always wondered if they believed that. I also wonder if Microsoft’s customers will believe it.

Creatively, it’s another story. What we get is mass-market, feel-good, seen-it-before pap — the opposite of aspirational. There’s little authenticity here, though I empathize with the problem. Microsoft has never succeeded in creating a brand persona, so they’re stuck with the one that’s been created for them. And the good-natured benefactor we see here is definitely not it. I guess they believe that by showing us ordinary folk, they can be “one of the guys” — but it doesn’t work that way.

It’s always a risk to show real people in a campaign like this, because your viewers, consciously or subconsciously, have to ask themselves “do I really want to be like that person?” In many of the Windows 7 spots, especially the one above, the answer more than likely is “I’d rather kill myself.”

But what Microsoft did here isn’t nearly as disappointing as their failure to do more. This moment could have been historic. Any ad person who hadn’t already sold his/her soul would have gladly done so for the opportunity to introduce the technology that will be used by 90% of the planet’s computers. Having been proclaimed “the best Windows ever” by reviewers and users for months, it’s a guaranteed hit — a no-risk proposition. If ever an advertiser had permission to be bold, to be brave, to create something truly memorable — this was it. This was Microsoft’s “iPhone moment,” the magic time that exists only because of the 10-15 years that played out before, when all the world is watching. Windows 7 is the company’s core product, and this campaign could not only have presented W7 as a landmark in computing, it could have served to help create the brand personality Microsoft has been missing. It was all there for the taking, and they chose to be harmless instead.

It’s really quite a shame. Unless you’re a Mac user, of course — in which case it’s kind of like one big Windows 7 launch party.

(FYI, there are a number of spots running in this campaign now. If you’re interested, here are the links to the launch ad and another my idea spot.)

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  • Andrew Tonkin

    As always, well observed. Also:

    1) Strange to build a campaign around users who seem poised to launch lawsuits claiming theft of intellectual property.

    2) A “we listened” campaign, to me, usually suggests a contrite company making up for previous poor product.

    3) Note how MS is forced (or chooses?) to play on Apple’s turf with the throwaway “I’m a PC” there at the end. (I know this has become a fixture in MS ads generally.) I see how they’re trying to throw this back in Apple’s face and make it a rallying cry for users. But I don’t think it really works outside of the premise of the Apple spots, where humans symbolize various computers; out of context here, it’s kind of bizarre. Seems like they’re trying to seed it but it feels like it’s being forced in there…

    As a Mac user, enjoying the Windows 7 launch party! Thanks!

  • ken segall


    There are tons of details in this campaign that would each make good topics for discussion. That “I’m a PC” thing is definitely one of them. When they did entire spots based on that line, it seemed way too defensive — and their defense to Apple’s specific attacks was a pitiful “but a ton of people use PCs.” In the new W7 launch spot, you’re right, it’s kind of a throwaway at the end, as if they believe it’s well-known and loved. Which I don’t imagine it is…

  • It’s just another insipid spot. Cringe-worthy. Not dopey enough to be funny, not real enough to be credible.

    Could the marketing people at Microsoft be any worse?
    I can barely blame the agency as the entire brand is so screwed up.

  • and, of course, Apple was quick to fire back… anyone seen the ‘trust me’ spot now running with John Hodgman saying (backwards thru all the previous OS iterations) ‘this time it’ll be better, trust me…’ until he arrives at the first Windows launch looking like he just stepped out either Miami Vice or a post-Gabriel Genesis video or both…

  • ken segall


    I do love this back and forth. It’s what makes advertising so much fun. In this case, it’s almost like watching a lopsided presidential debate. Microsoft’s comebacks seem woefully inadequate. Reminds me of a mock insult my dad used to use: “Prepare for a battle of wits … though I hate to fight an unarmed man.”

  • Liebman

    Mr. Segall, you said something in your coverage of Windows 7 that really got me thinking. (How does it feel to be on the other side of insincerity?) I wouldn’t imagine they used real people any more than Intel did in the Rock Star spot you covered. So it’s actually worse than imagined. Out of hundreds of hours of casting tapes, they picked the lug in the shower to represent what they think is a Microsoft customer.

  • @liebman: if you go back something like 6 campaigns ago (CPB has been VERY busy this year with MS) to the first iteration of the ‘i’m a PC’ … they used real people, including the guy that yelled out — in a very tight facial close-up on a very cheap, pixelated video camera — “i like cheese and I’m a PC!”…

    a really craptastic result ensued. i think that was MS Big Idea # 4 for 2009 from Crispin… as a result of A LOT of negative feedback from the public, trade pubs and general reviewers, the ‘real people’ idea was scrubbed and morphed into the whatever followed, i think it was the ‘laptop hunter’ boondogle…

  • Cory

    I don’t get the “I’m a PC” line that Microsoft seems to love. In the “I’m a Mac” ads… the characters are computers… it the “I’m a PC” ads… the users… their target audience…. are “PC’s”

    Well…. I’m more then a PC… I don’t think of myself as a computer (any computer) and I don’t want to EVER consider myself as a computer… so the ad does exactly the opposite of what they’re trying to accomplish… it makes me want to avoid being a PC, it makes me want to avoid buying a PC and Windows.

    At the end of one of the I’m a PC commercial they have Deepak Chopra saying that “I’m a PC” and that he’s “not a human doing… not a human thinking” …. WHAT! I want to be a human doing and thinking… I just don’t get it and I have to believe it has something to do with Deepak’s teachings… BUT… how many people get the “real” meaning behind those statements…. I would have to guess that most people don’t get it and that’s why it backfired on Microsoft. What was Microsoft thinking.

    One more thing… Jerry Seinfeld did some commercials with Bill Gates and was paid millions to do them. We all know that Jerry uses a Mac and in almost every episode of Seinfeld, there is a Mac sitting on his desk… WELL…. he just did a few episodes of “Curb your Enthusiasm” on HBO and guess what computer he’s using… a brand new MacBook Pro… hmmmm…. not that there is anything wrong with that.

  • ken segall

    Good point. To be honest, I never quite got past the defensiveness of the “I’m a PC” line. But you’re right, when you apply the words to real people instead of characters in a spot in which they actually represent computers — it’s pretty odd.

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