Microsoft did a fantastic engineering job with the Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets–early media reviews have called the design a handsome job with sturdy build quality thanks to its VaporMG construction. The slates come with an assuring click when the kickstand is propped out or the keyboard cover is snapped into place and a clean and minimalist appearance. Yet despite glowing praises over how elegant and attractive the hardware is, the Surface Pro and Surface RT are still lacking the face of a star. As such, the product line is a dud when it comes to making a cameo on your HDTV or on the silver screen.
And unless Microsoft makes its tablet less conservative, the Surface brand will continue to face difficulties gaining traction outside of Microsoft’s playful commercials centered around clicking, tapping, and dancing. Product placements on popular television shows have left viewers guessing what the tablet featured is.
That’s the case when a friend, whom I would consider tech-knowledgeable, emailed me after watching the ABC hit Grey’s Anatomy. The tablet was featured in several of the most recent episodes of the season with a non-descript black shell. Curious, I played the episode on my Apple iPad Mini using the ABC Player app, and from the looks of the angled edge, it appears that the tablet is none other than the Surface RT, but that took a bit of slow-motion pauses, and a few rewinds.
Product placement shouldn’t be this hard, and consumers should easily be able to tell the product you’re subtly trying to sell them. Take for instance Coca Cola’s and AT&T’s sponsorship of Fox’s American Idol where nothing is subtle about the colors and the product placement. As a viewer, if you’re working this hard to guess what device your favorite stars are using, it becomes a marketing flop.
Compare this to the case of Apple, whose shiny aluminum products could easily be deciphered on-screen. Apple has maintained continuity in its hardware designs, and if you look at the front of an iPad with a Home button, you can easily tell it’s an Apple design. And Apple could have easily removed its Home button on recent iPad tablets as well–implementation of multi-touch gestures can easily reveal the multi-tasking tray or close applications so you theoretically don’t need the home button to perform many of the actions that were required of pressing the hardware button before. However, Apple kept the signature piece, and it paid off as whenever it’s tablets are featured in hit TV shows or movies, viewers can easily and knowingly guess that it’s the iPad they’re seeing.
This is not the case with the Surface line, unless your favorite actors and actresses flip out the kickstand and attach the keyboard covers–things that were not shown on Grey’s Anatomy.
Even as a Surface Pro user, recognizing the Surface on the show for me was a challenge as the tablet was nondescript enough in slate form that it was hard for me to confidently name it by brand.
Should Microsoft re-design the Surface in colors that would help users ascertain its heritage as a Microsoft product? Probably not. Apple’s clever grey backing and glossy silver logo on the rear of its slate as well as a black or white bezel and singular Home button worked. Microsoft really needs to design its products with marketing in mind. As it stands, if viewers cannot identify its product placement–whether if that placement is paid for by Microsoft or if the ABC crew selected the tablet on their own–it’s wasted advertising money and energy.
Another Microsoft marketing flop in terms of product placement is the Windows Phone 8 product placement attempt as a series regular on ABC’s Scandal, a show that debuted last year by Grey’s Anatomy‘s creator. This season, according to another tech friend who watches Scandal, the Nokia Lumia 920 was shown, and sometimes even with the snazzy Live Tiles interface that’s part of the Metro UI on Windows Phone. However, rather than choosing a bright Nokia color, the black Lumia 920 was shown, making it hard for consumers to even recognize it was a Lumia 920 that they’re seeing. In the most recent episode, however, it appears that series star Kerry Washington switched to an HTC 8X, which my friend says is a departure from the non-descript black Lumia 920 that’s often featured.
What other shows have you seen recently that featured Microsoft’s products? Was it easy to spot the Windows or Windows Phone that your favorite actors and actresses are using?