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:
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.
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.