Dec 12

Microsoft goes for the gimmick

Back in the days of NeXT, Steve Jobs taught me a lesson in technology advertising. As you might expect, it wasn’t very complicated. It went like this:

“Be important.”

At that point in time, Steve had a particular need for importance. Sales of the NeXT Computer weren’t exactly on fire. The company was struggling to survive.

Steve wanted the world to believe that NeXT was a relevant force with a message that deserved notice. He had no interest in an ad that was cute or inconsequential. He wouldn’t pin his hopes on a marketing gimmick.

I can’t help but think of Steve’s direction when I see Microsoft’s advertising for its Surface tablet.

“Important” it is not.

Think back a few months to the big unveiling of Surface in Hollywood, when the new tablet was presented by Steve Ballmer and Steven Sinofsky (now an ex-Microsoft person). Whether or not you like Surface’s features, the boys of Microsoft made their case for importance:

• widescreen display
• innovative interface
• smart cover with keyboard
• built-in kickstand
• PC productivity apps

Assuming that any or all of these features are enough to do battle with the titans of tablets (iPad and Android), you might expect to see mention of them in Surface advertising.

Not really.

Instead, Microsoft has opted for the gimmick. It seems that Surface makes an audible click when you attach the keyboard/cover to the tablet. And along the way, someone decided that the click would make a nice “hook” for the campaign. That led to a launch commercial based entirely on the click.

This celebration of the click must have cost millions to make. But if you were a customer looking for an actual reason to buy Surface, you’d still be looking when the commercial ends.

Meanwhile, I haven’t heard any reports of click-envy from iPad and Android users.

After this commercial ran, I started seeing the outdoor advertising for Surface, which is notable for a couple of reasons.

First, Microsoft is now going the Apple route in outdoor ads — offering no headline and simply putting the product name alongside a photo. (Something discussed earlier in this blog.)

But wait! Look closely and you’ll see the little words “Click in” between the keyboard cover and the Surface tablet. Obviously this is no time to go off-concept.

Looking at this poster, one might also ask: If the interface is so innovative, and it sets Surface apart from iPad, why wouldn’t we at least see that on the screen?

As icing on the cake, I now see that this irresistible “click” has even made it into the latest junk mail from Staples:

With “Click in and do more,” we get the deeply satisfying click concept along with an echo of Dell’s already unoriginal “do more” theme line.

I might add that in many of these ads, the viewer doesn’t even get that it’s a keyboard clicking in. It sometimes appears to be a smart cover very much like the one Apple sells for iPad.

Already, we’re seeing reports of less-than-stellar sales for the Surface tablet. If the product continues to fade, part of the reason will be that Microsoft went for the gimmick instead of offering substance.

It’s important to be important. In that measure, Surface’s marketing just hasn’t clicked.

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  • oo

    “Hey! Apple did a “click” ad for the iPad 2. We gotta do one too!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpwxG-VWONY

  • H

    That wasn’t even ever aired on TV. Just Apple.com

  • JohnDoey

    Surface is the smallest desktop computer ever made. Not really that important when the zeitgeist is taking computing away from the desk and putting it into the user’s hands so that they can navigate wireless networks wherever they are.

    And Surface doesn’t run any important software. There is no mobile music studio or mobile video editing suite on there as on iPad. No ground-breaking medical apps as on iPad. iPad is enabling people who never mastered Windows after years if trying to finally master a computer and take control of their digital work and play. No such revolution with Surface.

  • Robroberts

    Microsoft should have made a true tablet, not the compromise that they are selling. And the elephant in the room is the “Metro” interface — while it looks pretty, in actual use it is rigid and confusing. Consumers have not been clamoring for a new tile based UI paradigm — IOS has virtually no learning curve. Windows 8 and Surface will tank, and within a year watch for Ballmer to be “retired”.

  • The weirdest thing to me is that “clicking” is a concept I associate with the desktop computer metaphor, as in “point and click”, “click and drag”. Now MS uses “click” everywhere to advertise their Surface which just plain sounds anachronistic.

  • > And Surface doesn’t run any important software.
    It runs MS Office, arguably the most important piece of software, like it or not.

  • Pacomius

    And that was not to show off the iPad (which was already Out There), but rather the cover itself (which was an extra innovation particularly associated with the iPad 2).
    Which brings me to something else: Why is it that all of the users in the “Click” advertisement seem to have to click these vaunted keyboards to their tablets before they start doing anything with them? Aren’t they supposed to be covers, protecting the tablet screens from abrasion when not in use? The Smart Cover on my iPad also makes an audible click when I connect it, but I very seldom have reason to disconnect it. Or is this a tacit confession from MS that their cover does not stay on very well?

  • It’s not anachronistic if you’re living in the past… Like Microsoft.

  • TomCross

    I get the same junk mail from staples and while I was there I couldn’t find a Surface, not even a display or a fancy shmancy setup with cardboard like they do. Your post clicked the nail on the head, i mean hit*

  • Also the most underpowered “desktop” computer I’ve seen in the last 10 years. A “desktop” running a POS Tegra 3?? You kidding? Also, runs almost zero apps. For me, Office doesn’t even count as Excel RT doesn’t support the x86-based plugins which are vital to my workflow.

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  • Marian

    The ad is for the un-personal tablet. I can’t imagine myself swapping my iPad with anybody else. My iPad is mine – it has my mail, it has my apps, it has my bookmarks, it has my data. People in the Surface commercial swap Surfaces like crazy.

  • Seems that the name, Surface, is a few years old. Wasn’t that the name of a touch-screen gizmo that doubled as a large coffee table?

  • I think the ad is fine. Gets people into stores wanting to try it out. I know a lot of people want to try the click. The problem is just with the products. Face it. All of the Apple ads over the years, if they were the same but made for the Zune or Windows Phone or Windows Vista, they wouldn’t be as memorable because the products weren’t good enough. I like the Surface tablet (I own a Windows RT Asus tablet myself) but the main issue is the unfamiliarity, lack of well recognized apps and price (asking customers to pay same cost as established iPad for a new untested device is a leap in faith).

  • Robroberts

    I believe the future of tablets is the iPad Mini. The current version is so good it is selling out in China and surpassing the iPad 4 sales in the U.S. And the next version — with a retina display and A6 processor — will be the nearly perfect portable computing device for the masses. I don’t see how Microsoft’s fullsize, widescreen Surface tablet can even begin to compete on a hardware or software level. The Surface exists to keep the Windows franchise alive and consumers could care less. They want mobility, ease of use, battery life, light weight and stunning design — all offered by the iPad Mini and upcoming new iPad Mini in spades.

  • CB

    After watching some ST:NG episodes recently, it looks like iPad mini is the same size as the tablets used in the show.

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