Microsoft’s Image Enhancement Rollout Needs A New Voice

MeMicrosoft is busy spending $300 million on a new campaign to roll out, refurbish, re-build, revive, renovate, re-constitute, re-invent, re-whatever its image after ceding the battlefield for far too long and allowing Apple and others to shape the story since the launch of Vista. I hate to say it, but the effort seems not only misguided but doomed to fail. If this was a Broadway show the closing notices would be posted before intermission.

Mary Jo Foley is pointing to Microsoft’s revamped website which is featuring that first new splashy ad featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. As for the ad-what a waste of shoe leather. As for the site? Well, it is pretty. Mary Jo is also letting us know that Microsoft is going to spend some dough hiring and placing 150 or so Microsoft trained ““gurus” in Best Buy and Circuit City stores in the roll up to the holiday season.  Think of them as ‘personal shoppers.’ Think of them as quickly being out of work.

Probably anticipating a less than stellar response to the campaign, Microsoft’s Bill Veghte has released a memo to Microsoft employees explaining the ideas and strategy behind the campaign. (You can see the full text on Paul Thurott’s blog.) According to Mr. Veghte, the first ad is to be thought of as an ice-breaker.

This first set of ads features Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Think of these ads as an icebreaker to reintroduce Microsoft to viewers in a consumer context. Later this month, as the campaign moves into its next phase, we’ll go much deeper in telling the Windows story and celebrating what it can do for consumers at work, at play and on-the-go. At that time, I’ll be back to share more information about our plans to further strengthen the bond between consumers and Windows — one of the most amazing products, businesses and brands of all time, and, with the right tenacity, passion and agility from all of us, a story that has many great chapters to come.

WindowsMy first thought when seeing the ad was cold shower not ice breaker. I might be being unfair here, but my bottom line is simple. For quite some time the brains behind Microsoft’s marketing and PR have just not earned their keep. I don’t know where they do their focus group testing. I don’t know how they make decisions. I just know that they fail miserably and spend way too much money doing so. Can you name me a campaign in the last five years that has been successful and not become on some level a laughing stock?

The landscape is moving very quickly and Microsoft just doesn’t seem prepared to keep up, much less move ahead. It also seems like it is operating out of fear more than anything else, and unfortunately doing so at a pace the Comcast turtle would want to see speed up.

I know things are perking on the technological side at Microsoft that offer some promise. (Mesh, Silverlight, Windows 7), and I know that the bean counters and marketing mavens are struggling to try and stem the self inflicted bleeding that has come with their own inept and far too late in the game response to Vista’s woes. But the initial impressions (and first impressions really do count) of this effort have been, shall we say colder than ice. If Microsoft wants to start a conversation, they did. It just isn’t the conversation they were hoping to start.

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