Microsoft surrenders to Apple

After a mere two weeks, and under a barrage of jocose abuse on the blogosphere, Microsoft decided it was time to give viewers a rest and pulled the plug on its Seinfeld “about nothing” ads.

The communication blitz, however, hasn’t ended. To replace the dreadful “Bill&Jerry” ads, Microsoft just put forward two new “I’m a PC” ads.

The ads build heavily on the famous “I’m a Mac” campaign from Apple, with Microsoft going as far as actually recruiting a John Hodgman look-alike.

We are told that the guy is one of Microsoft engineers. What remains unknown is if he was already like that in real life, or if Gates installed a codec to turn him into a caricature of a PC user. Or maybe he just got a bug from his Vista upgrade.

David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft, candidly admitted to the New York Times that Apple had succeeded in making “a caricature out of the PC”.

After playing dead for the past months, Microsoft now decided it was time to counter-attack and “take back the narrative”.

It’s baffling, to say the least, that Microsoft chooses to repossess its own story by mimicking (and therefore paying tribute to) Apple’s communication.

This, however, doesn’t seem to concern Microsoft managers, with Mr. Webster describing the glaring references to Apple’s communication as a “smart way of changing the dialogue without taking them through the mud”.

He’s absolutely right in that respect. This ads don’t take Apple through the mud. They’re already too busy dragging Microsoft.

In the Bill&Jerry ads, Microsoft made a mockery out of itself by either presenting itself as a discount or a dislocated brand – not exactly the most prized slots in the consumer’s mind.

Now, in a truly perplexing move, it chooses to acknowledge the success of Apple’s communication in pushing Microsoft into the “uncool” corner – it even has one of the characters in the ad saying “I’m a PC and I’m not what you call hip” to underscore the feeling.

Instead of making and upholding its own claim, it chooses to deviate resources and, most important, consumer’s attention into countering Apple’s, thus waging war in a place chosen by the enemy, and where he is already well entrenched – a poor choice by all accounts.

This kind of guerrilla tactic has its value if you are, well, a guerrilla – small and mobile, and looking to sting rather than to crush.

That is not, however, the case of Microsoft, a true behemoth and the third most valuable brand in the world, according to the just released Interbrand index.

Microsoft is a giant, which means that it’s easier for it to fall on it’s own accord than for others to make it fall. It should acknowledge that and not try to move like a dwarf.

In Kagesmusha, a film by Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, Lord Shingen Takeda emphatically warns its heirs that they should never move the full force of the army out of their domains, for it would leave it exposed. “The mountain does not move”, he kept repeating.

It’s warnings, however, fall in deaf ears. His successor, longing for battle, mobilizes the entire army to attack a smaller neighbor, which in the end brings about the demise of the entire clan.

Now Microsoft just moved the mountain. Will it fall?


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September 2008
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