But it stressed the new ads are not a reaction to bashing from the Justice Department, competitors and the media.
The ads "are an effective way to humanize Microsoft and to present a gentler, kinder face," said Tom Hartocolli, director of marketing and communications for the division targeting small- and medium-size businesses.
The budget is small -- an estimated $5 million in U.S. computer publications in the first half of '98. But the approach shows Microsoft is willing to shift its message when it sees a business need.
Microsoft tries to win over skeptics in three campaigns: one to promote the independence of Microsoft-certified computer resellers; a second to explain how Microsoft's Windows NT meshes with companies' Unix computers; and a third to show why corporate software developers should use Microsoft developer tools.
NOTHING PERSONAL, REALLY
"We don't take it personally" when Microsoft resellers recommend a rival product, says one self-effacing ad. "Because these things happen. It's just business. Really, we're fine with it. Really."
Another ad says: "It's no secret some of our best ideas have come from recognizing those of others." A third ad notes: "Apparently there are those who do not subscribe to an all-Microsoft approach."
The ads grew out of focus groups with information-technology customers. "These guys like the products," said Michael Bettendorf, associate creative director at Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco, which did the campaigns. But he acknowledged Microsoft carries baggage.
"It's the cool thing to bash Microsoft, so you get a group of these IT guys in a room, and the first thing they say is, `It's a monopoly,'*" he said.
When asked to pick up words spread on a table to describe Microsoft, focus group participants picked up "Bill Gates" about half the time. So the new ads portray the softer side of Microsoft -- without showing Bill.
Mr. Hartocolli said Microsoft wanted to use humor to come across as humble and to deflect perceptions of arrogance.
Amid attacks by the government and others, Microsoft has monitored brand perceptions but saw no reason to alter the brand campaign handled by main agency Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. (AA, Sept. 29).
Still, Ben Evans, general manager of corporate marketing, said Microsoft brand advertising is evolving from the "slightly challenging" tone of the first "Where do you want to go today?" ads in 1994. Future brand ads, he said, probably will be "more inspiring."