Microsoft: Losing Its Brand Translucence

September 11, 2008

Although it has prided itself as a company iconically known for its software, Microsoft made little visible effort to improve its product recognition during a new ad campaign. Apple Inc., Microsoft’s main competitor in the eyes of consumers, has been polishing its image of being trendy, stylish, and modern. Microsoft’s new ad campaign, on the other hand, has provided little to stimulate consumer imagination. If anything, the latest Microsoft ad has hurt its brand image even more than Apple’s “Mac vs. PC” ads.

Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld joined forces to invigorate Microsoft’s reputation, but the reaction among television viewers to this collaboration was a mix of confusion, disappointment, and impatience that has left Microsoft supporters waiting for an effective marketing campaign to serve as the touché to Apple’s parry. Watching Bill and Jerry’s banter in a circus-themed shoe store does not embody the Windows operating system, in the minds of consumers, and, obviously, not in the minds of stockholders because after the release of the new ad campaign, Microsoft saw a dramatic drop in stock price.

Microsoft is more than just the Windows product line. Far from being just a software publisher, Microsoft also combats the Apple iPod with the Microsoft Zune. And there is the Xbox video game console that has carved out a solid niche in the gaming console industry. TheGates / Seinfeld ad should have illuminated Microsoft’s operating systems.

Apple has transformed itself into a very translucent company. A consumer can easily discover an Apple product amongst competitors due to its solid brand identity and signature style. Microsoft, however, has confused its identity by offering multiple products within the same product line. From Vista Basic up to Vista Ultimate, a consumer can grow easily confused and even question the value of a Microsoft product over a competitor’s.

Rather than spending an entire ad campaign defining everything that the Microsoft brand image comprises, would it not be more prudent to focus on the Windows Vista operating system and its benefits for business and education, and, thus, clarify which Vista options are most appropriate for each target consumer market?

As this new marketing campaign unfolds, it will be interesting to see in which direction Microsoft shuffles its consumers. Will there be a “eureka” moment when this unorthodox effort connects with its consumers? Or will the campaign fall into obscurity and create more media cannon fodder for an already struggling reputation?

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