Josh Parnham

Microsoft Surface And Advertising

Microsoft’s long awaited Surface tablet is due to be shipped to customers in the coming days, and whilst early reviews are hesitant to recommend the device, the collective tech world will be watching on with eager eyes as this product debuts and tries to snatch a piece of the tablet marketshare. One detail that’s been causing a stir since the Surface’s introduction is Microsoft’s marketing efforts, specifically the teaser and subsequent TV ad:

These ads - the earlier a futuristic, industrial and ambiguous teaser and the subsequent, a light-hearted, energetic and colorful advertisement seemed to split the tech world’s opinion. There were those who hated it and those who loved it, but no matter your own opinion on the ads, everyone can agree that Microsoft succeeded in where it ultimately matters - getting people talking about them.

Watching these ads and hearing all the negative feedback prompted me compare with some of Apple’s recent commercials and some from its past. The iPod line advertising in particular shows extreme similarities to the surface commercials, employing many of the same tactics used by the Microsoft marketing department over the product’s decade-long lifespan (dancing, pop music, bright colors, futuristic light shows, etc.)

Also notable is that with the iPod’s advertising campaigns, Apple tends to deviate from their usual tactic of focusing solely on the product and its capabilities. Instead, we see ads that focus less on the device and more on intangible qualities like the emotional connection one has with the product. Here are some examples:

So why can Apple create these ads and not have to endure people complaining that it looks like they are advertising a device that will turn you into a silhouetted dancing extraordinaire?

The most common argument made is that the vast majority of the population is already familiar what the iPod is and what it does. This allows Apple to get away with running these more esoteric commercials and still be able to convey their desired message. This is a valid argument, but dismissing an ad based purely on a product’s context does nothing to assess it’s execution or potential effectiveness, the detail that should matter the most.

Also a common argument is that these ads lack focus and a clear message about the product - Shawn Blanc, for example, thinks they could be advertising a keyboard. Irrespective of these criticisms however is the more important point of what they’re trying to achieve with the campaign - of which I think Gruber summed up best:

It’s a brand ad, not a product ad — not about what Surface can do or how. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. The ad has a clear message: Surface is an iPad-size tablet with a magnetic keyboard cover and it’s fun. That’s a pretty good message. It’s about framing the product in people’s minds.

This brand building approach is one that’s perfectly acceptable, and we’ve all seen and understood how well it’s worked for Apple with the iPod line - I’m intrigued to see how effective this strategy works out to be for the Surface, a device that the general public doesn’t already know much about. So far, figures from AceMetrix suggests that the ad is working wonders - so now all we have to do is wait and see if a “successful” advertising campaign can translate into sales.

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