Reading the Microsoft advertising tea leaves for 2010

Summary:Microsoft has a bunch of new consumer-centric ad campaigns coming in 2010, timed to hit with a variety of new products that are slated to launch this year. Although Microsoft and its ad agency partners aren't yet ready to divulge the actual ads, David Webster, the chief strategy officer in Microsoft's central marketing group, offered some insights about what the company is thinking about on the ad front for 2010.

Microsoft has a bunch of new consumer-centric ad campaigns coming in 2010, timed to hit with a variety of new products that are slated to launch this year. Although Microsoft and its ad agency partners aren't yet ready to divulge the actual ads, David Webster, the chief strategy officer in Microsoft's central marketing group, offered some insights about what the company is thinking about on the ad front for 2010.

On Office 2010 (the official launch of which is slated for May 12): Microsoft is continuing to work with agency JWT, which has been doing the current "Real Life Tool" spots for Office, for its upcoming Office 2010 ad campaign. (JWT is also the agency behind the Bing ads.) Given that most enterprises are already educated about Microsoft Office, Webster said, the new ads are going to have more of a consumer flavor to them.

"People are defining work pretty broadly these days," Webster said during a meeting I had with him this week, to include everything from volunteering at events, to creating needlepoint pattern designs, to preparing a PowerPoint toast for a friend's wedding.

Given Microsoft's current focus on users who want to use a single tool or set of tools to handle all aspects of their work/home lives, the Office 2010 campaign is likely to reflect a similar message. The new Office Web Apps and Office Mobile 2010 pieces of Microsoft's Office message -- coupled with the server-side cloud and on-premises products -- like SharePoint Server (and SharePoint Server Online), Exchange Server (and Exchange Server Online) and Office Communications Server (and Office Communications Online) -- also will be part of Microsoft's continued emphasis on three-screens-and-a-cloud, according to Office Senior Vice President Kurt Delbene (with whom I also had a meeting this week).

On Windows Phone 7 (the official launch of which is slated for "holiday 2010): Microsoft will be working with Crispin, Porter + Bogusky -- the agency that did the Laptop Hunters, "Windows 7 Was My Idea," and those confounding Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld ads for Windows 7 -- to create its Windows Phone 7 ads. Webster emphasized that the marketing and product planning teams for Windows Phone 7 have been working side-by-side, to devise the "story telling" for that product from the very start.

Microsoft wants the new phone ads to attract customers who may never have used (or didn't realize they were using) a Windows Mobile phone. "The 'people' focus was a big part of the (Windows 7) branding" and will be a continued emphasis for Windows Phone 7, Web ster said.

The messaging "needs to reflect customers we have and customers we don't," he said. It also needs to explain why Microsoft is opting for a different phone model with elements like hubs and Live Tiles, instead of the app-centric approach of its competitors, Webster said. Windows Phone 7 also is the perfect vehicle for Microsoft to highlight the interdependence and convergence of different Microsoft brands and technologies, since Windows Phone 7 devices will be running Bing, Office Mobile, Zune services, Internet Explorer, and Windows Live, Webster pointed out.

Smartphones are a lot like search, Webster said, in that users, when asked, say they are mostly satisfied with their phones but then actually have a litany of complaints (like they don't like having to come in and out of six different apps to perform a particular task). Other phone vendors are locked into certain models and messages, he said. "They're solving for a problem from four years ago," he said. Microsoft has the advantage of being able to come in with a new model and message because it is basically starting over with Windows Phone 7.

On Project Natal, Microsoft's gesture-based game controller (which is being showcased at E3 in June, but shipping in time for holiday 2010): Microsoft hasn't yet decided on the agency that will be handling these ads, Webster said; T.A.G. SF handled some of Microsoft's holiday 2009 Xbox promotion/advertising.

In holiday 2009, Microsoft's Xbox emphasis was on family entertainment. The company wanted to expand the Xbox audience beyond shooter game enthusiasts, to include casual gamers. With Natal "we can reach a much wider constituency," Webster said. "It's not just going to be mor eof the same."

In all of these campaigns, Microsoft is hoping one message comes through loud and clear: That the Redmondians are doing things differently and in an innovative way. With Office 2010's multi-device/multi-scren support, Windows Phone 7's new user experience and Natal's natural-user-interface, Microsoft is hoping folks see them as thinking outside the usual Microsoft box.

I was hoping Microsoft might have some kind of iPad counterstrike ad up its sleeves to launch later this week, but Webster said if there is any such campaign, it would come from Microsoft's OEM partners, not Microsoft itself.  Even without such a campaign, it sounds like the Softies' marketing groups are going to have their hands full doing more consumer ad outreach in the coming year....

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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