Microsoft’s baffling “I’m a PC” campaign

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Doug Kessler

10. 11. 2008 | 2 min read

Microsoft’s baffling “I’m a PC” campaign

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Apple got a lot of attention with its “PC vs Mac” commericals.  They were simple, funny, well-scripted and seemed to capture the essence of what Mac people love about their Macs.

Clearly, they got under Microsoft’s skin, because the crack Seattle Rapid Response team has leapt into action (what, three years later?) with an expensive riposte: the “I’m a PC” campaign.

Microsft people grow beards!

The result is wrong in so many ways, I can’t summarise them all in a blog post.  Hitting the lowlights:

  • It’s needlessly defensive – Microsoft owns the PC market.  Why the hell are they stooping down to swat at a niche player? Real leaders should never look back, down or to the side.  They only look ahead.
  • It’s over-produced – This one spot cost more than fifteen of the Mac commercials. Which kind of proves Apple’s point. Guerrilla marketing will always be cooler than Madison Avenue marketing (or wherever Big Agency lives these days).
  • It backfires – Microsoft is not content with market share, mega-profits and virtual ubiquity.  It desperately craves the one thing it can’t have: coolness.  So instead of letting go of cool (the only cool thing to do), they concoct this shrill howl. It isn’t just not cool.  It’s watching your Dad dance.
  • It proves the opposition’s case – They want to say, “We’re creative and interesting too!”.  But by assembling this cast of PC-people (in both senses), Microsoft sends the message, ‘We are everyperson.’ And everyone is no one. Bland. Boring. Even though some have beards and some scuba dive and some don’t even comb their hair.

The whole exercise reminds me of an embarrassing bit of greenwashing that Ford did a few years ago.  The CEO barked, “Make us look green!” and the hapless marketing department was caught without a plan.  They cranked out a glossy insert packed with every mini-credential they could muster. One was, “The roof on this factory is covered in grass!” (neglecting to mention that the factory belched out 200,000 F150 trucks at about 18 miles per gallon each).  Another said, “our design team has four vegetarians.” (I’m not joking).

I’m sure Microsofties are enjoying their foray into “I know you are but what am I?” marketing.  Turning the other cheek can be excruciating when you know you could kill your enemy with one blow.  But internal morale-boosting and good marketing are two very different things.  And Microsoft now looks like the kid who discovered bell-bottoms about three parties after they went out of fashion.  Blush.

Published in:

  • b2b-marketing

  • branding

  • content

  • copywriting

  • Microsoft

  • mobile-marketing

  • Thought Leadership

  • web-marketing

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  1. victorseo

    November 19th, 2008

    Microsoft sells PCs? Cool. I want one.

  2. Paul Danter

    November 19th, 2008

    …and the crack team at Apple responded in a matter of days in the US with the ‘Bean Counter’ Ad which makes fun of the marketing spend. PC piles money into two groups ‘marketing’ and ‘fix vista’. The latter pile is almost empty. – Title: “Bean Counter”.

  3. Doug Kessler

    November 19th, 2008

    Nice one, Paul. Skateboard meets super-tanker.

  4. Stuart Greenfield

    November 19th, 2008

    You are absolutely right. It is firstly a very poor piece of work and has not even been re-written for a UK audience. Secondly it has taken an Apple idea which shows an incredible lack of creativity and imagination by the Microsoft marketing managers and the ad agency they use. All this ad does is remind you how good the Apple ads are. It does not give you any compelling reason to either use a microsoft product or swap to them or upgrade. It is is just a very poor piece of work that does not connect with any audience.

    I have been in advertising for 20 years and I really believe that Microsoft is a great company who have changed the world, probably more so than any other business in the last 20 years, they don’t need to do this. They obviously have a massive confidence issues at the moment. We all need Microsof to do well and offer competition to Google. How can we help?

  5. Kim Mills

    November 19th, 2008

    Hear! Hear! Well said. I thought I was the only marketing geek out there who yells at the tv during bad commercials as much as insane political rhetoric! These lame PC spots encapsulate everything wrong with Microsoft. They rip off other people’s good ideas, turn them into behemoths – with no sense of urgency, and then proceed to shove their ill-conceived, poorly developed concepts down the public’s throat. I’m not sure whether I should laugh or scream at the irony that these commercials do a fair job at delivering expectations about their products. This campaign is the equivalent of a bad comb-over.

  6. Ryan

    November 19th, 2008

    I respectfully disagree. I found Microsoft’s ads to be witty, entertaining, and down-to-earth, and they accomplished exactly what Microsoft wanted: they resonated with people. Do a search for “I’m a PC” and you’ll find thousands of videos of people who were motivated to make their own video. Sure it’s a blatant rebuttal. Big deal.

  7. Ed Stivala

    November 20th, 2008

    I disagree – I like the campaign and think it is a good example of whit in advertising. Far from being poor work I think it is quite a good move.

    Having read your posting a asked a small random sample of people what they thought and only two out of eight didn’t get it! (I do realise that my sample of eight is insignificantly small and also skewed – but it was just a quick sanity check!).

    Clearly some will miss the point and it will go over their heads – but that will always be the case 🙂

  8. John

    November 20th, 2008

    As someone who’s moved over from PC to Mac in the last year (and also spent nearly 4 years at Microsoft) I’ve been on both sides. Mac users are overly smug and have an inflated view of the “power & experience” of the Mac platform. Yes, I love my Mac, but its not THAT good guys. Shock horror – it does crash and sometimes things don’t work! And Microsoft is completely obsessed with being as cool as Apple and desperately falls short of the mark.

    What Apple has in its favour is its been focussed on building an emotional and in the main, clear, message over decades. MSFT loves to launch a new campaign every 6-12 months. Plus at the end of the day Apple controls the entire supply chain so can deliver a complete experience. MSFT currently can’t do that, when their hardware partners are churning out cheaper and cheaper PCs with dubious build quality.

    You can’t compare the two and MSFT should fight on their own ground, work out their own identity and deliver a message consistently over more than a year. Remember a marketing campaign, like a dog, is for life, not just for christmas.


    Doug – you loving the power of Linkedin?!!

  9. Doug Kessler

    November 27th, 2008

    This post generated a mini-storm over on the LinkedIn Pro Marketers group:

    It’s amazing how polarised the Mac/PC thing is — like red and blue states.

    Whichever side you’re on, the question is whether or not this was a good strategy for Microsoft. I think it was a howler.

    They could have celebrated the diversity of the PC base (much more diverse than Mac’s) without starting from a defensive posture. Instead, they’re spending a fortune telling the world how much their feelings were hurt by Apple’s teasing — and how they ARE really cool.

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