What advertising can't fix
If you spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars on an ad campaign for a tech company, people will talk about it. If you give Jerry Seinfeld, the most famous comedian ever, $10 million to be in a few of the commercials you do, people will talk about it even more.
Microsoft has fallen into a trap that befalls many large companies in search of cred, buzz or respect. They've decided to buy some via advertising.
For more than twenty years, Microsoft has relentlessly commodified itself and the software it makes. It has worked to become a monopoly, a semi-faceless organization that cranks out very good (or pretty good) software that gets a job done for the middle of the market. It's been a profitable strategy.
But now they have Apple envy.
The Zune plays music, the iPod is the badge of a tribe.
A PC laptop runs Excel. A Macbook Air generates buzz and creates joy.
The answer must be to run better ads! And lots of them.
Question: When was the last time you met an Apple employee who was truly passionate about the products she made or sold? My guess is this happened the last time you went to an Apple store. When was the last time you had a similar experience with a Microsoft employee?
If you talk to Google employees, odds are that they are totally engaged and on a mission to change the way people interact with the internet and with information. Talk to a Microsoft person and they will be happy to talk about reliability or standards they set or the way to engage the bureaucracy of the organization.
Microsoft may very well not be broken. The world needs reliable bureaucracies that mollify the needs of corporations and individuals in the center of the market. But if it is broken, advertising isn't going to fix it.
[Before the legions of committed and engaged Microsoft employees reading this write in, please consider my point. I'm not saying that there aren't large pockets of innovation or joy at Microsoft. I'm saying that Vista and PowerPoint and Microsoft's other core non-game products are largely devoid of personality and are optimized to be sold to organizations that prefer it that way. Microsoft can change this if they want to, but until they do, running ads pretending to be something other than that is a waste of money.]