We see the furrowed rows of a farm at sunrise and hear the hum of insects. A lone bicyclist pedals through the narrow streets of a European village. A Japanese man sleeps as his wife walks through the bedroom. A couple sleeps. A woman wakes up to the call to prayer as we see the Aya Sofia of Istanbul in the background. Another lies awake in her bed. We see an empty office and then another as the lights come on. The sun comes up over Prague. People getting up from their beds in two starkly different apartments. A child jumps on his mother as she stretches. A woman opens the blinds to her room, letting the light shine in on a series of paintings. A man pours a pail of water over his head, a woman puts on mascara, another hands orange juice to her son. We cut to a very different breakfast table in Japan and then another in India. Then some of these people we have seen waking up leave their houses. We see them making their way to work in Japan, in Russia, in Istanbul, in America and Europe. Finally, over the music we hear a male voiceover saying, “The most important part of any business walks through the front door every day. Will they be ready? Ready to have ideas? To build relationships. To help customers and invent new products? Ready to make a difference? They will, if they have the right software. People ready software. Microsoft. Software for the people ready business.” Through the course of this narrative, we see these same people we have tracked through the morning arriving at work and starting their day. The word ‘software’ arrives first as a man opens his laptop. The signature line ‘Software for the people ready business,’ is superimposed over the Japanese businessman at his computer. The last screen has the Microsoft logo and the url microsoft.com/peopleready. The print ads (4 executions) show groups of co-workers in different work settings and reinforce the point that people and their imaginations make businesses run – and that software enables this.
This spot is artwork and it captures our attention. Every frame has been labored over and every shot purposefully conveys a mood. The spot achieves universality by literally roaming the planet and capturing the morning experience in almost every continent. Thus whether you are viewing this from Peoria, Prague or Pusan you will feel the combination of weariness, anticipation and beginning that each morning brings. The basic insight in the spot is both obvious and one that many businesses ignore: at the end of the day, business is about people. If you support them and they are productive, your business may be successful. If you do not, you will not be successful. Although not Tivo-proof, this spot certainly provides some intrinsic value as entertainment through gorgeous cinematography and stark visuals.
Regular readers of this advertising blog know that however much we appreciate the execution and aesthetic merits of an ad, our ratings are based on two criteria:
- Will the ad increase sales?
- Will the ad build the brand and increase the value of brand equity?
Ads that fail to do either of these two things cannot succeed, no matter how beautiful they are. And therein lies the problem with this new, $500 million dollar Microsoft campaign. It will not increase sales of Microsoft products and it does not build the brand because the basic message is neither ownable by Microsoft nor uniquely linked to the Microsoft brand. Here are the problems with this spot by the numbers:
- No Reason for Being - The fundamental issue with this advertising is that we are not exactly sure why it exists and what it is supposed to be doing. Is it image advertising? Category advertising? Corporate advertising? We don’t know. As Ad Age points out, this advertising is driven by the same insight that is driving IBM’s new strategy: that the focus of CEOs for information technology will be to drive growth rather to cut costs. That means that companies will be more focused on how technology drives creativity, productivity and empowers people. This shift in focus works well for IBM because they spent over a decade reincarnating themselves as a consulting company. Microsoft is not perceived as this sort of organization and has not changed the underlying products or organization to accomodate this new advertising strategy.
- Not Persuasive – After watching this spot and seeing the print elements of the campaign, we agree that people move businesses and that software needs to be focused on unlocking their creativity. But we do not believe that Microsoft is particularly good at doing this and we don’t have any warmer feelings about Windows, Office or any other product.
- Weak Branding – Microsoft does not show up until well past the halfway point in this :60 second spot. We assume that the $500 million being spent on this campaign will ensure that everyone eventually makes the brand connection, but we would prefer to see stronger branding.
- Targeting – Microsoft also did not think clearly about whom they are targeting. To the extent that this advertising will change anyone’s mind (and we do not believe it will), it should be most appealing to CEOs or HR Directors. But are they actually making the purchasing decisions for Microsoft products? It seems unlikely. If this spot is targeted at the ordinary worker, then we know it won’t work because ordinary workers never get what they want when it comes to technology. If Microsoft is really targeting chief technology officers, then they must believe that those folks are much, much different as a group than they were just a few years ago. That they are much more aesthetic and less quantitative. We don’t believe it.
- Media Strategy – If Microsoft is trying to persuade the entire world that they understand people and are uniquely able to provide software to empower creativity, then they have chosen the right media strategy. (Even though we do not find the message persuasive.) But is that the most effective way to build the brand or increase sales? Would one message even play to consumers, corporate IT decision makers and business leaders as well as programmers, educators and everyone else? It seems unlikely. The huge media buy seems like a waste of money and a lack of targeting.
It is easy to pick apart advertising, but harder to offer positive suggestions. So we would offer just one to Microsoft: learn from X-Box. Instead of trying to convince the world that Microsoft is a great company with a vision by screaming it out (however elegantly), show one small product that improves peoples lives in some way. And use that as the metaphor for what you can do as a company. As we have said in the past, we know brilliant, creative people who work at Microsoft. But most people do not and public perception of the company is more driven by Windows security gaps, slow Office applications and memories of the blue screen of death. So in a fundamental way, this campaign argues with people’s perceptions.
Branding Bottom Line:
Spending the $500 million through the Gates Foundation would have done more for Microsoft’s brand.