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Can Microsoft Counter the Effect of Apple Ads?

Vista has floundered while Apple’s nifty ads skewered the Windows OS. Can Redmond fight back?
So, Microsoft executives have come to the point where they are sick and tired of that “pretty noisy competitor out there” (Apple, in case you’re puzzled as to who that is) kicking sand in the face of the Redmond giant. In response, they're getting ready to come out and make us all aware of just how good Windows Vista is by “telling the real story.”

But does anything that Microsoft can come up with have a chance against Apple’s catchy, funny and irreverent style of ads?

Apple ads are pretty good at depicting how the two companies are viewed by the general public. On the one hand you have the stuffy, corporate, white collar PC, and on the other the young, hip, trendy Apple.

Apple didn’t conjure up these two personas, it just decided to capitalize on them. And Apple’s ad folks have been doing a pretty good job of convincing those PC users who are dissatisfied with some aspect of Windows to give Mac a try.

The ad campaigns have worked so well that now fully half of all Macs sold go to first time Mac owners (also known as Mac virgins, if you take the view of the Mac being a cult …). Mac desktop market share is widely accepted to hover around the 7 to 8 per cent mark, and when you compare that to the dominance of Windows (with a desktop market share somewhere in the region of 85 to 90 per cent), you wouldn’t think that Microsoft has anything to worry about.

But what’s worrying Microsoft executive isn’t Apple’s desktop market share as it stands now, but how it’s grown.

Go back a couple of years and Apple was limping along with a 4.5 per cent share of the desktop market. Effective advertising combined with leveraging the switch to Intel-based CPUs to allow users to run Windows on their Macs, thus giving new users a much-needed safety net. It seems that the much-needed break that Mac was looking for was allowing users to have Windows alongside their Mac OS. But here’s a question for you. Given Apple’s recent success when it comes to creating ad campaigns that work, does Microsoft stand a chance of getting its message across?

Microsoft has already tied to convince enterprise users to “give Vista another chance” and stop worrying about Vista, but these campaigns come across as whiny, annoying and lacklustre compared to Apple’s ad offerings. Also, Vista’s image problems aren’t confined to enterprise users, they are endemic.

There’s a widespread belief that Windows Vista is a lame duck being foisted on users by a giant, faceless corporation that relies on us all upgrading our software (and hardware) on a regular basis. Even people who’ve had little or no issues with Windows Vista regard it with suspicion. If there was ever an OS blighted by image problems, it’s Vista (as opposed to Windows ME, which deserved all the criticism it received, and more).

By now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Hang on a minute, didn’t Vista go RTM sometime towards the end of 2006 and get released to the public in January 2007, and Microsoft is only now trying to polish up the image of the OS?”

You’re right. It’s taken Microsoft more than a year and a half to come to Vista’s aid, and even now the company hasn’t gone as far as throwing it a lifeline. Why has Microsoft taken so long to try to change the public’s perception of its flagship OS?

Well, my guess is that Microsoft knew damn well that Vista was released in a condition that didn’t do it justice. When benchmarks showed that the new OS was being outperformed and outgunned by XP, it was pretty obvious that Microsoft had taken the “ship it now, we can always fix the bugs later” idea way too far. Microsoft needed to wait for a whole raft of updates to be released, along with SP1, before it could credibly say that Vista was ready for action.

So will we be seeing any funning PC vs. Mac ads from Microsoft anytime soon? My guess is that we won’t.

Microsoft doesn’t have a track history of having ads that look anything like those being put out by Apple. Microsoft ads always seem to be arty, sterile and a little vague to me, even for products such as the Zune, which let’s face it, could have done with the help of some good ads.

Also, if Microsoft tries to take Apple on directly, it could end up inadvertently giving the Cupertino company even more ammo to throw back at it in the form of future ads.

My guess is that Microsoft will stick to what it knows best and rely on sterile, pseudo-corporate campaigns. After all, that’s what the PC Man from the “I’m a PC and I’m a Mac” ads would do…




Tags: Windows, Microsoft, Vista, Intel, Mac


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