First hints of Microsoft's "fight back" ads appear

Summary:A new ad at Microsoft.com tries to make the case for a fresh look at Vista by pointing out that "at one point, everyone thought the earth was flat." Aligning its most vocal Vista critics with the Flat Earth Society is a clever way to get people's attention, but can this approach really overcome the overwhelming negative buzz about Windows Vista?

I just noticed this teaser on Microsoft’s home page:

New Microsoft ad

If this is going to be the overall message of Microsoft’s much-vaunted new $300 million ad campaign, it might be money well spent. According to the folks at LiveSide, the first ads in the new campaign were previewed at Microsoft's employees-only Global Exchange conference last week to rave reviews. As Tim Anderson astutely noted the other day, “Vista is now actually better than its reputation. That’s a marketing issue.” Microsoft’s biggest challenge is to get would-be customers to set aside whatever preconceptions they have and listen to its pitch for Vista. Aligning its most vocal Vista critics with the Flat Earth Society is a clever way to get people's attention.

But the bigger job, that of actually changing people's minds, will be easier said than done. Apple has largely defined Vista’s public image so far with its devastating “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads. Responding directly to those ads is a losing tactic. Largely thanks to John Hodgman, the humor bar is set extraordinarily high. Any kind of response ad would legitimize the claims in those Apple ads and run the significant risk of being seen as lame and uncool.

And there’s no sign that anyone in Redmond is going to go down that road. Instead, clicking the link on the “World is flat” ad leads to a page headlined, “Windows Vista: Look how far we’ve come.” The copy beneath leads off with a sheepish admission:

When Windows Vista debuted in January 2007, we declared it the best operating system we had ever made. "Windows Vista is beautiful," The New York Times raved. It's humbling that millions of you agree.

But we know a few of you were disappointed by your early encounter. Printers didn't work. Games felt sluggish. You told us—loudly at times—that the latest Windows wasn't always living up to your high expectations for a Microsoft product.

But that's followed quickly by a reinforcement of the theme set out in the visual above:

We know that's what some people are saying on the Internet. And in its early days, Windows Vista did experience some compatibility problems. But thanks to our industry partners' efforts during the past 18 months, here's where things stand today.

Next up is a bullet list emphasizing the sheer number of Vista-compatible hardware devices and applications, and it’s followed by this ringing defense aimed at XP enthusiasts:

Windows XP is a great operating system. Its continuing popularity, just shy of its seventh birthday, makes us proud.

Our goal is always to make each new version of Windows better than the last. With Windows Vista, we're convinced we succeeded.

That's a pretty good start. The real hard work begins with the messages that immediately follow this one. Microsoft has to identify the real benefits in Windows Vista and communicate them clearly and crisply. That’s not going to be any easy task.

Update 23-July: A Microsoft spokesperson confirms that the ad shown here is not part of the upcoming ad campaign, which is due to launch soon.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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