Microsoft signs up ‘Apple’ of agencies: is advertising the answer?

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How often have we heard this:

Brand Manager: ‘Hmm, market research indicates that our consumer’s don’t find our products cool. The find the competitors products more appealing. Our image has taken a beating. We must do something!

Senior Brand Manager: ‘I know exactly what to do! Let’s call an advertising agency!’

Sigh. A new advertising campaign or a pitch is often seen as the solution to vexing problems pertaining to the brand. Brand perceptions are a function of how it is projected in advertising. But it plays a minor role compared to what the product does. Guess who just joined this group? Microsoft.

They have just hired Crispin+Porter Bogusky, an agency touted as the ‘Apple’ among agencies. Fast Company’s June issue carries a cover story on this, titled ‘Can Alex Bogusky help Microsoft Beat Apple?’.

CPB is an agency I admire immensely. Their work on Mini Cooper, Burger King, IKEA, Truth campaign against ‘Big Tobacco’ and Volkswagen have been my favourites. I even downloaded their employee handbook from their website and that’s a delight to read too.

Despite their reputation for reviving brands, they will have their task cut out with Microsoft. As the article says, ‘Alex Bogusky built the country’s slickest ad shop using Apple products. His next challenge: Persuade people like him to buy Microsoft’s stuff’. It’s not going to be easy. The task rests on the shoulders of Andrew Keller and Rob Reilly, new co-executive creative directors. As one of them said:

“To try to be cool is to not be cool,” Keller pronounces. “To chase cool, you’re chasing something that already exists, which means you’re always going to be on the wrong side of it, you’ll always be following.”

Could not agree more. Reminded me of some of the efforts from Indian brands which try to be cool (Youngistan, anyone?). The agency, filled with Apple products & fans is getting used to Microsoft products. When asked if the team is getting rid of their Macbook Airs and iPods, Reilley said: “It’s not a matter of forcing people. It’s getting them to want to use it. If you can’t, you’re not going to do great advertising.

Microsoft has not had a checkered past in advertising campaigns, unlike Apple which has had a high strike rate. So all the more reason why this project will be under the microscope.

The article throws up some interesting nuggets: Apple gives a tremendous amount of access to its product development to its agency. Apple is probably sharing stuff that maybe it’s afraid to share, but that allows the agency to get in at a level where it can produce work like that, the article says. Now, how many of us have access to products that are in the pipeline. Most often, we just get told about the launch date. Hmmm.

Apple’s success (recently, more so) have been built on products. They cleverly rode on that success to make more of the same – great products: Macbook and iPhone. The strategic marketing & advertising is only the icing on the cake. The Mac cult is built on its products, not personality. Proof of that in terms of recognition is the two Black pencils given by D&AD to Apple products (iPhone and iMac). These awards are known as the ‘Oscar’s’ of the creative industry – Black Pencil’s are only awarded when a product meets extremely stringent criteria. At six previous annual ceremonies, no Black Pencil’s have been granted at all, most recently in 2003. Apple has won a total of six Black Pencils since 1999, making the company the most successful firm across the D&AD Award’s 45-year history. An interesting interview with the man behind these designs, Jonathan Ive, is here.


Name one product from Microsoft that compares on design & drool value? Microsoft has a hard act to follow in terms of products that command not just market share, but mindshare too. The cool quotient will automatically follow.

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  1. More than the ‘coolness’, I look at it as the ‘not-ashamed’ or rather ‘proud’ factor attached! E.g one would be proud to own a Sony TV but would definitely not be ashamed to say own an Onida either! But the issue with Microsoft is that customers definitely are not proud + they just run away from Vista atleast… it hangs… its damn slow. Why do they want to copy Mac in and out now?
    And as mentioned in one of the articles through your link, Apple spends less than half of what Microsoft spends on Advertising and Promotions. Yet we always fantasize about using Apple products…

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