Does Microsoft have a product problem or marketing problem?

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When speaking about blogs and new media to some of the advertising industry folks, I have been asked this question very often: how do I get people to talk about my brand or advertising on the internet?. Well, the answer is simple: they must want to talk about it on their own, you can’t get them to. This attitude is also common to those who rely on traditional media – it translated into putting pressure on creating ads that get talked about. Buzz, both in the offline & online world has its merit. It could translate into respect and eventually brand loyalty. But can it be bought?

In a brilliant post, Seth Godin talks about how Microsoft’s latest advertising effort in the US is about stuff that advertising can’t fix. Microsoft, he says, has developed Apple Envy.

For more than twenty years, Microsoft has relentlessly commodified itself and the software it makes. It has worked to become a monopoly, a semi-faceless organization that cranks out very good (or pretty good) software that gets a job done for the middle of the market. It’s been a profitable strategy.

The Zune plays music, the iPod is the badge of a tribe.

hen was the last time you met an Apple employee who was truly passionate about the products she made or sold? My guess is this happened the last time you went to an Apple store. When was the last time you had a similar experience with a Microsoft employee?

I’m not saying that there aren’t large pockets of innovation or joy at Microsoft. Vista and PowerPoint and Microsoft’s other core non-game products are largely devoid of personality and are optimized to be sold to organizations that prefer it that way. Microsoft can change this if they want to, but until they do, running ads pretending to be something other than that is a waste of money.

Nicely summed up. One might argue that with a 90% share of the worldwide market it is difficult not being a commodity. In any conference room today or at an airport lounge you will see a sea of black laptops all with the Microsoft OS. Microsoft is attempting to create pride of usage among this lot. Everybody uses a PC is more like a statement of fact. And when you end that argument with ‘You got a problem with that?’ like in one of the ‘I am a PC’ ads, you end up sounding defensive.

A related issue familiar to all advertising folks is dealing with parity products and expecting advertising to create the difference. And of late, the pressure on agencies to deliver ‘clutter breaking’ work is even more. And that leads to some bizarre work (like the Cadbury’s 5 Star ‘Kho jao’ work?). Combine it with the pressure of delivering a 360-degree campaign for every brand, every category the reliance on advertising to solve product problems is complete.

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