Microsoft go cool?

They’re valued in the ballpark of $233 billion (£117 billion). Annual sales of $60 million have grown around 18% for the last six years. Their operating software runs on 90% of the world’s computers. Internet Explorer (their own browser) is employed by three-quarters of Internet users. There are over 1 billion Windows Live ID authentifications per day. Bill Gates’ endowments to the Gates Foundation are over $29 billion. How is it Microsoft gets to be so unloved?

It’s not even a polarising love found often in sport where some people may love football, but hate golf and visa versa. I know plenty in industry who adore Apple, but none that rave on about Vista or Windows. Well Microsoft’s Steve Balmer (Mr Gates’ successor) plans to change that by handing a new $300 million consumer-branding campaign to the Crispin Porter and Bogusky agency.

[Although that’s large it’s significantly less than their last product push for the Windows Vista launch where they spent two years and $500 million – only to bomb.]

Balmer’s choice appears an edgy one, having ousted the incumbent, McCann Worldgroup agency. Bogusky have been creating ‘cool’ for the corporate world for over a decade: the stunts on the Mini Cooper and the ‘King’ of Burger King are just two. Their VW partnership didn’t fare so well with Bogusky resigning the contract (perhaps before being pushed?).

The team’s first video volley above sees Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates in a shoe shop. To state the obvious: Microsoft and jokes equals new. With a capital ‘N’.

What isn’t new is the mindset that Microsoft is trying to soften their edges and tell their side of the story instead of coming across as the nerdy, soulless, evil, license grabbing, behemoth.

Back in 2006 artist Hugh MacLeod (now one the blogosphere’s most infamous voices) was employed/contracted by Microsoft to soften them up and to better communicate their ideals. This is Microsoft’s Steve Clayton:
For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people- the media, the competition and their detractors, especially- to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.
We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better- what they do, why they do it, and why it matters- if they’re to remain happy and prosperous long-term.

Personally, I’m more concerned about the client side of things rather than the agency side. Can Microsoft really let these guys in so they can draw out what’s true and great about the company and package it in a fresh, intelligent and humorous way? It’s a big ask to take this disliked goliath who wants to be a master of all things – from home computing expert, to cool gamer, to search champion, to business hero – into a young, cool thing.

Sure, ‘loved’ is a tall order and the brand is never going to be edgy, niche or underground, but a persona that’s a little bit cooler and cuddlier should be possible. After all, it couldn’t really get much worse could it? If Bogusky and his team (I’m betting on when, not if) come close to that objective their fee will have been well earned.

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