Microsoft's Delusion

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

The ad world has weighed in on the new Microsoft commercial that features Jerry Seinfeld shopping for shoes with Bill Gates, and most reviewers think the same thing as most regular folks: it makes no sense

I think it makes complete, perfect sense. Here’s why…

Microsoft is to technology what ExxonMobil is to the oil industry. As such, it knows that the vast majority of human beings alive on the planet will likely buy its products and services for many years to come, whether they consciously think about it or not.

Microsoft just wants them to like its brand.

Not sell stuff. Change minds. Effect change the geophysical world. And certainly not combat Apple, as some analysts have suggested. In fact, anybody who believes that Apple’s very memorable TV ads (or its general business success) have somehow prompted Microsoft’s campaign just don’t understand the nature of how branding relates to company strategy.

For every Mac Apple sells, how many PCs are sold that run Microsoft’s OS? Zillions, maybe more. Apple’s top line is to Microsoft what Ghana’s GNP is to China, maybe less. Apple isn’t a threat to Microsoft. It’s not even a distraction. 

In fact, Apple can’t ever grow to become a competitor to Microsoft (size-wise) without losing the very attributes that make it so successful. Add too many customers and hackers start writing virii to whack Macs. Add too many third-party apps, and the stability/reliability of the Apple eco-system suffers (already, some app I got keeps disabling my iPhone mic). If everyone you see owns the same Apple gizmos that you do, those devices no longer possess the same cachet that they do now.

In other words, Apple can’t try to overtake Microsoft without becoming like Microsoft

So it’s not going to happen. Steve Jobs is just too smart for that. And Bill Gates knows it, too.

Microsoft isn’t worried about losing customers to Apple. It could care less. In fact, it made that investment years ago to help keep Apple afloat because it needed there to be a competitor in the marketplace, even in name only. 

Conversely, it makes sense that Apple wants to peel away PC customers. It wants to sell them new computers, software, services, and accessories, and its marketing needs to make buying a conscious choice. Consumers have to actively resist the easy, routine way to buy consumer electronics; it needs to interrupt the process that drives those choices.

For the vast majority of transactions in the foreseeable future, however, those choices are going to be unconscious. And they’re going to involve Microsoft products.

That’s why the new Seinfeld campaign doesn’t sell relevance, utility, value, look-and-feel, or any other quality that would relate to someone actually buying something. Who needs it? 

We’re supposed to have fond feelings toward Microsoft in much the same way (and for the same distant, abstract reasons) that we’re supposed to like Shell Oil, ADM, or GE. Whether any of this goodwill ever translates into selling more stuff doesn’t really matter. Let Apple focus its Lilliputian dreams on marketing that gets consumers to behave differently. Microsoft can afford to skip the action part, and spend its time and money adjusting what consumers think.

Makes perfect sense. There sure are some bright bulbs working overtime at Microsoft.

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