Windows 95 launched with a ferris wheel and about $300 million in marketing spending. Windows XP went out the door with about a half billion marketing budget, plus another several hundred million in Intel spending to promote the Pentium 4 chip, which was the hand on which the XP glove arrived. Now, Microsoft is set to spend $500 million on Vista marketing.
It's a record, according to Advertising Age, but in reality it is virtually the same marketing spend as five years ago. Inflation adjusted, that means Microsoft is spending less on marketing Vista.
And messages from inside the company seem to tacitly acknowledge the lower expectations.
"The last time people made a decision on an operating system was five years ago -- and the world has changed dramatically since then," John B. Williams, general manager of Windows global communication told Advertising Age. That's the wrong foundational assumption for a marketing campaign that builds on the familiar, and we can't assume that Microsoft doesn't know that. No one is choosing Windows anew, they are selecting based on known reliability.
In fact, people have been making that decision about their operating system every day for the past five years. They decide to stay with Windows or to move to Linux or Macintosh. The Vista campaign relies on a consistent expression that Vista is better, even though early reviews have cautioned customers that, compared to other OSes, Vista isn't a breakthrough.
Microsoft's Vista campaign is predicated on the surprising performance of the new OS. Every commercial ends with: "Every so often you experience something so new, so delightfully unexpected, there's only one word for it." Wow, buyers had better say, or they'll start challenging the marketer's positioning of the product. Unless they decide that Vista is an acceptable step forward and say so, which most unsophisticated computer users will do.
Perhaps that's why the spending isn't increasing compared to the XP launch. Bill G. is going to be on The Daily Show, not riding carnival rides at the Redmond campus (after the Rolling Stones' rumored performance didn't happen that day to everyone's chagrin, though Jay Leno was good). The joke's on everyone, it seems, because the real message is that Vista is good enough.