Since the Renaissance of Apple with the advent of their i-line of products it’s been all out war between then and Microsoft. Mac versus PC. iPod/iTunes versus Zune. Safari versus Internet Explorer. iPhone versus WinMo and so on. The latest salvo comes in the tablet market where the walled garden ecosystem of iPad is being challenged by the new Widows OS7 paired on their flagship Surface device.
Watching Monday Night Football the other evening the lastest incarnation of the Surface commercials caught my attention. Not because they were new, or even remotely exciting, but because they suddenly reminded me of something to which I quipped, the current iPad v. Surface commercials:
reminds me a little of Mr. PC verus the Mac-rosexual back in the day, with Apple once again playing the role of ‘was that a left over cast member from Friends they just trotted out.’
Most of my friends immediately remembered those classic Mac versus PC commercials with the humanized versions of the device stereotypes ribbing one another and got a laugh. Microsoft’s take on the theme isn’t nearly as quirky or stimulating from a cache’ standpoint, but then again, Mircrosoft’s strength has never been in the advertising space.
Although the value proposition of Surface is articulated it’s hardly memorable other than the use of the Siri-personality against itself in the execution of listing off data points in the tried-and-true compare-contrast script. Perhaps it works because this is what consumers have come to expect from Microsoft in ways that don’t allow them to relate to the more emotional campaigns like the original Surface commercials with the hip music and modern dancing or the older “I am a PC” commercials. It isn’t that Microsoft hasn’t created visually stimulating, emotionally inspiring advertising, it’s that when they do it never quite impacts consumers in the same way the more direct, ‘this is our product’ concept has.
What’s interesting is the dynamic this juxtaposition creates both for Microsoft and for Apple. Microsoft reenforces the Apple brand by poking fun at it’s cosmetics, the very thing most people claim to enjoy about the products.
In a similar way, back in the day, the strength of Microsoft’s features (even the clunky ones) was turned into a weakness when placed against the visual elements of Apple. It’s not a new concept. Auto manufacturers have been degrading one another’s products for ages. So have fast food and carbonated beverages. Politicians have mastered it.
You don’t always gain market share or moreover mind share on your own strengths alone. It’s your competitors weaknesses that provide you the foothold. And, sometimes the best places to attack are the ones that superficially appear to be competitor strengths thus chipping away at the positive perception while instilling your own value proposition in its place.
Will this technique work for Microsoft in the tablet space?
The answer to that question remains to be seen. The grander problem isn’t in consumer perception of the core product itself. There’s no question Surface is alone in it’s feature set with no direct competition but filling a huge void for consumer’s expressed needs. It has the ability to transcend itself into adjacent markets easily and perform as well, if not better, than some of the entrenched products.
It lacks something beyond Microsoft’s immediate control and something no amount of consumer commercials will overcome in the short run. Apps. The add-on personalization of the app market allows Apple, Google and Amazon to thrive in their offerings while it’s sunk the likes of Research in Motion and to a degree HP/Palm and others.
Until Microsoft can entice enough developers to the platform with the possibility of revenue potentials in line with iOS and to a lesser degree the distribution diversity of Android it’s going to be an uphill battle. So, when Siri inquires at the end of the Surface commercial, “do you still think I’m pretty?” the honest answer is, “No, but you come with enough fashion accessories I can eventually make you look good enough.” And, that’s all Apple needs for now to maintain itself, good enough and a lot of good add-ons in the form of apps to keep consumers buying which continues to lure developers, thus perpetuating the situation.
Mr. PC might have gotten a new wardrobe, hairclub for men and a gym membership, but he’s still dorky and a little antisocial, unfortunately.