NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Microsoft is marketing its latest attempt to break into the smartphone market as "the phone to save us from our phones." The question is whether the new phone -- which looks different than other smartphones on the market -- and a new marketing approach can help it become relevant in a market increasingly dominated by Apple, Google and Research in Motion.
While Microsoft won't get into specifics on its ad budget for Windows Phone, an exec said the effort will be "competitive" with Verizon's $100 million saturation campaign for Droid phones last year, meaning the airwaves will hum with a new campaign from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the same agency that brought you Microsoft's successful "I'm a PC" and "Windows 7 Was My Idea" campaigns.
While those efforts emphasized the offbeat, quirky nature of Windows users, the campaign for Windows Mobile -- unveiled along with the phone today -- pokes fun at the app-centered world of iPhone, Android and BlackBerry users, who are portrayed as spending so much time with their noses in their phones that they're missing life.
Launch spots will highlight scenes in which people use their phones in inappropriate places: in the shower, at the urinal, at an operating table, before sex. One of the ads, "Really," revolves around the title's question when people come across offenders sucked into their phones. A masseuse is checking her phone? "Really?" responds the half-naked lady on the massage table.
"There's an insight into what's happening in our culture with phones," said Gayle Troberman, Microsoft's chief creative officer leading the Windows Phone campaign, which is slated to go live tonight in the U.K. "[Phones] are starting to dominate our behavior. We're challenging consumers to think about the role phones play in our lives. Maybe they can be designed better to [let us] get back to life sometimes."
To make the claim, Microsoft had to design a phone that looked substantially different from its competitors. With the latest version of Windows Mobile, dubbed "Windows Phone" this time around, rather than a grid of applications -- a signature of the iPhone and Android phones -- Windows Phone has an entirely different look and feel.
"We have to differentiate," said Todd Peters, Microsoft corporate VP-mobile communications marketing group. "Everything is looking the same now; if we come in like that, we'll be buried."
Rather, Windows Phone is hinging its future on convincing consumers that there's a better way, with a continuously updating stream of text messages, social network updates and preferred content called "live tiles." While some might consider diverging from the familiar grid of app icons risky, Microsoft and Crispin are making that difference the core of their marketing strategy.
"[Consumers] have this tsunami of available content and experiences; we looked at the design of being app-centric, and it was in and out of apps all day," Mr. Peters said. "It's getting distracting. There's a failure to focus. We see people always face down, looking at apps."
Windows Phone will have to compete with Apple's highly recognizable iPhone and iPad ads, as well as Verizon's Droid. Others, such as Nokia, are also trying to make headway in the U.S. and have plans to flood the market with smartphone ads this quarter.
Microsoft is hoping this time around it can break with a decade-long tradition of futility in the mobile phone space. Microsoft is currently the No. 4 smartphone platform with 10% share, behind BlackBerry-parent Research in Motion, Apple and Google, according to ComScore August data. Microsoft has consistently lost percentage points over the last several months, and it is hoped Windows Phone will reverse that decline.
In the wake of reports that Verizon will get iPhone, ending AT&T's exclusive hold on the device, the carrier will also help market Windows Phone.
"We talked to all the mobile operators early on; with AT&T, we began to click as marketing partners," said Mr. Peters, adding we can expect co-marketing from AT&T and Microsoft in the coming weeks. Mr. Peter said the partnership will also extend into retail displays and employee training in AT&T's 2,200 stores.