Vista Might Be Better Than It Seems, but Its Ads Are Worse

Kudos to Microsoft and Its Agency for Starting a Conversation, but They're Not Going to Like What They Hear

By Published on .

At first blush, it seems like such a clever and powerful idea: Take a bunch of dubious potential Vista users, let them play happily with a new computer operating system called Mojave and then lower the boom: "That's not Mojave. That system you like so much is actually ... Vista! We pulled a switcheroo! Ha ha ha! Don't you feel like a douche bag now?!"

And suddenly the world is forced to reconsider its contempt for Microsoft's core product, just like those hidden-camera spots from the '80s made us all rethink the fresh-brewed flavor of Folgers Crystals instant coffee.

Title: The Mojave Experiment
Marketer: Microsoft
Agency: Bradley & Montgomery
History has shown it counterproductive to tell prospects they are ignorant sheep too stupid to think for themselves.
The problem, though, is the second blush, the third blush and all subsequent blushes. Because the very process of reconsideration reveals how misleading and wrong Microsoft's so-called Mojave Experiment really is.

For starters, it's dishonest. People don't distrust and dislike Vista because it's somehow cool or fashionable to diss it; there is scant social benefit to badmouthing an operating system. People have turned on Vista because, by Microsoft's own public admission, the operating system is a memory-guzzling mess. The problems aren't necessarily apparent for new users, but with Vista, familiarity breeds contempt. Structural flaws emerge to interrupt you, stymie you and generally slow you down. And while the company likes to point at internal surveys documenting 89% customer satisfaction, the salient statistic there is 11% dissatisfaction, an intolerably high percentage representing 10-million-plus disgruntled souls -- 100% of whom have computers for spreading the bad news.

Meanwhile, on the subject of "scant benefit," history has shown it counterproductive to tell prospects they are ignorant sheep too stupid to think for themselves. Remember Mac's infamous 1985 "Lemmings" ad, the vaunted Super Bowl follow-up to "1984"? Turned out the target audience of office PC users did not appreciate being portrayed as lacking the common sense or free will not to follow their colleagues off a cliff.

Finally, there is the methodology itself. As its parting shot on the Mojave Experiment website, we see a subject being informed that his "Mojave" was actually Vista. "But why is it faster?" he asks, and this is supposed to be the Aha! moment. Epee to the heart. "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

Except that his happens to be precisely the right question.

As a Digg commenter named Marketmule explained: "An optimized installation of an OS, by an optimized technician, on optimized hardware, under optimized conditions doing an optimized set of tasks. With conditions like that I could make a rose out of excrement and win first place in a flower show." Roger that, Marketmule. You didn't even mention the human dynamic: subjects predisposed to pleasing their gracious hosts.

But, more to the point, let's say Microsoft's premise is correct, that Vista is perfection and its discontented users just irretrievably stupid or wildly misinformed. There is still no benefit to trying to change their perceptions. That's a fool's errand -- like the State Department spending untold millions trying to persuade Arabs and Muslims that they have us all wrong. As long as the U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians is what it is -- right or wrong -- Arabs will resent us. Full stop. Lots of saccharine commercials featuring smiling Muslim Americans in headscarves will have no effect whatsoever.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, like the U.S. government, it is in no position at the moment to change the product itself. The next-generation operating system is several years away, and an operating system isn't a jar of instant coffee, which you can be tricked into buying with minimal risk. Kudos to Bradley & Montgomery, Indianapolis, for provoking an open conversation on the subject. But agency and client face an extended period of listening to voices they will be most discouraged to hear.
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