Microsoft corporate ads depict a kinder, gentler monopoly

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[redmond, wash.] Microsoft Corp., in the wake of this month's antitrust ruling, today unleashes three TV spots as part of a push to soften its corporate image.

The effort follows a sweeping reorganization of Microsoft's marketing operation intended to streamline major brand initiatives and lend overall consistency to its advertising (AA, March 27).

"Microsoft traditionally has been very decentralized, and we had a lot of product groups with hundreds and hundreds of products and some big ad budgets," said Mike Delman, general manager-advertising and events. "There was an incredible array of people involved, there was an incredible array of messages to consumers and an incredible amount of contact points with the agency," he added.

NEW CHIEF OF MARKETING

The move centralizes responsibility for marketing and budgetary control under Mich Mathews, newly named VP-marketing. She had previsouly been VP-corporate public relations.

The ads, part of an estimated $30 million campaign via McCann-Erickson/A&L, New York and San Francisco, break in prime-time broadcast network and cable TV programming, highlighting Microsoft initiatives such as online child safety and education. Overall, the Microsoft account is valued at more than $300 million.

"When you think about the purpose, it's really to broaden people's understanding and appreciation of what Microsoft is and what role Microsoft plays in their lives," said John Carter, director of advertising. Mr. Carter maintains that most of the company's advertising comes from a business productivity standpoint, but "there's a part of Microsoft that many people don't know about."

The company and agency strived to find real-life situations to illustrate story lines in the spots. One spot takes place in a teachers' lounge, as an instructor relates how a student who's been out sick for three days missed key assignments.

He humorously relates what he told the kid: "You've got to come to class if you want to pass." A fellow teacher suggests he e-mail the student the assignment. Voice-over says the Microsoft Classroom Teacher Network provides Internet software that enables students and teachers to better use the Web.

NEW LEVEL OF HUMOR

"You would never have seen this level of humor and humanity in Microsoft campaigns; there were touches of it in the past, but most of the work was edgy," Mr. Delman said.

"We're demonstrating the soul in a lot of this work," agreed Michael McLaren, McCann's top executive overseeing the account. "We're bringing to light an accessibility and a humility that actually exist; we're not making it up," he laughed.

Humility in advertising is one thing. On the job, it's quite another. The company is aggressively charging ahead to create new market niches where it can lead. A Next Generation Windows Services initiative, to be unveiled in coming weeks, will highlight Microsoft's new business vision and the promise of Web-distributed software and services.

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