On 2nd May 2006, we were hit with this rather witty advert:

After the success Apple had with the iPod and the subsequent interest this generated for other Apple products, they decided to promote their core business – computers. Cleverly, they were designed to point out subtle annoyances that people had come to expect whilst using the ‘Wintel’ class of machines (that’s Intel based machines running Windows), and used it simultaneously to promote the strengths of the Macintosh hardware/software combination.

Meanwhile, in Redmond, Microsoft were preparing their long awaited successor to XP – Windows Vista. After delay upon delay, Microsoft finally released Vista with their ‘Wow!’ advertising campaign.

Wasn’t that delightful? Unsurprisingly, Vista was a commercial flop. I’d like to emphasise that I am talking solely about marketing and not comparing the actual products themselves – although as is well known, Vista was seen as a flop by much of the computing world too.

The problem with this ad is that there is no focus. The only thing Microsoft seemed to be promoting was that this new version of Windows made you go ‘wow!’. Out of all the things that Windows manages to do very well, this is not one of them. In fact, most would agree that the ‘wow factor’ is a major selling point of Apple’s products in general.

This, of course, played right into Apple’s grubby mits. Their ‘Get a Mac’ advertising campaign switched from focusing on gently pushing Macintosh’s benefits to slating Vista’s shortcomings.

Microsoft were really at a low at this point. Businesses were refusing to upgrade to Vista after deciding that there was simply no merit in doing so. Computer manufacturers such as Dell were being pressured by consumers to sell computers with XP installed on them rather than Vista. And more and more people began requesting computers with Linux pre-installed. On 24th May 2007, the world’s leading computer retailer Dell (at the time) began selling laptops with Ubuntu Linux on them rather than a Windows operating system.

Last year, Microsoft made a tacit admission that Vista had failed, with Bill Gates and Co lauding the new Windows 7 not much more than a year after Vista’s release. They also realised that Apple was killing them on image. Thus, a brand new ad campaign was launched with this:

Nope, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either. It also served to confirm to any movie director that they would not be hiring Bill Gates for a starring role any time soon.

Apparently, this was the start of their new advertising campaign which worked on the slogan ‘Life Without Walls’.

This one made it quite obvious that Microsoft were responding directly to Apple’s ‘Get a Mac’ campaign. There is one key difference though. Apple’s adverts are directly comparing Macs to Windows-based computers and highlighting the benefits of their product over the competition. This advert, on the other hand, is merely stating what we already know – that lots of people use PCs. Guess what? More people drive a Ford than a Mercedes – this doesn’t say anything about the relative merits of a Ford in comparison to a Mercedes.

With their most recent adverts, Microsoft finally look like they are focusing on one of the strengths of buying a PC – choice and price.

Nice. Notice the new pop at Apple – ‘Macs to me are just about aesthetics’. This is a nice subtle way of brushing away the competition. One brownie point there. But I’m going to dock them a hundred brownie points. Why? Lauren has managed to find the right hardware for her needs – a Dell laptop. That’s all well and good, but at no point in the advert does she make her decision due to Windows! There’s no mention at all of the operating system. Microsoft seem to have forgotten that they only make the software and not the hardware. With this advert, they’ve put forward a great case for not buying Mac hardware, but no case for choosing Windows over OS X or Linux.

I sure hope the Apple vs Microsoft ad wars continue. It makes for interesting viewing and will definitely raise the profile of the two firms (regardless of it being in a positive or negative light).

Apple have always hit the marketing bang on the head. They know where they excel and know how to tell other people this fact. Microsoft can’t seem to figure out what their strength is. Admittedly, it’s difficult to promote a product that everybody uses solely because it is ‘there’ and everybody else already uses it. Trying to appear ‘cool’ like Apple is not going to work – so I’d suggest that they promote the strengths of their product without trying to compete in anybody else’s niche areas.

Of course, there is another player in the OS market. I’ll leave you with this gem…