NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A year ago, battered by negative reviews and an onslaught of attack ads from competitor Apple, Microsoft was busy trying to convince consumers that Windows Vista's problems were all in their heads. But as it readies a rollout of Windows 7, it doesn't have to persuade people to not believe what they read, but that they should instead buy the hype.
The Twittersphere last week was buzzing over Microsoft's new OS, with hundreds of mostly complimentary tweets an hour. It even cracked Twitter's "trending topics" at one point. Could it be that Microsoft is finally getting some of what rival Apple has long had: users who love its products and want to influence others to use them too?
Vista's 'black cloud'
"I think the thing that's going to sell Windows 7 in the consumer market is positive buzz," said Jeff Parker, president of Directions on Microsoft, an independent IT analyst firm focused on Microsoft technologies. Mr. Parker's firm has tested the system and is recommending it to clients. "There was a black cloud hanging over Vista, mostly because it was delayed -- so even before it launched, there was already a stigma. And that might have been otherwise forgivable if there hadn't been the flaws. But those flaws were amplified because the pent-up anticipation was overwhelming."
Gayle Troberman, advertising manager at Microsoft, said in an e-mail that she's "thrilled" by the external feedback and that "you can expect to see us build on the incredible momentum we're seeing in the press and with people who've seen our ads."
Windows 7, set to make its worldwide debut Oct. 22, has been called "Vista that works" (by Best Buy, in an internal marketing memo) and the "prettiest Windows yet" (by Gizmodo, in a product review). That warm reception means the tech giant's ad agencies that are introducing consumers to the new operating system won't be beset by the challenging negative word of mouth that Vista faced.
According to industry executives, Microsoft's longtime agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, will handle media duties for the Windows 7 launch, while a creative advertising campaign is being developed by the marketer's lead consumer ad shop, Crispin Porter & Bogusky. WPP's Wunderman has been tapped to handle digital-relationship management and global deployment of the advertising work Crispin and other agencies will develop.
Continuing Crispin's steady buildup
The Windows 7 push will be the latest execution in a campaign from Crispin that broke last fall, with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld kibitzing in a shoe store. Since then the effort has seen several iterations, including spots featuring celebrity PC endorsers such as Deepak Chopra and Eva Longoria and a consumer-generated PC campaign. Already stickers that say "I'm a PC and I run on Windows 7" have leaked onto the net.
Said Microsoft's Ms. Troberman: "We'll be evolving the Windows consumer campaign, kicked off September 2008, as we move into the Windows 7 launch and beyond. You'll see us continue to tell the Windows story, giving a voice to some of the billion PC people who use Microsoft products every day."
All the shops declined to comment for this story, but given the October launch date and that back-to-school season is almost upon us, it's safe to assume the curtain will be raised on the Windows 7 campaign soon.
Google search data shows Windows 7 is steadily building buzz and, according to Radian6 analysis, 96% of conversations comparing Windows 7 and Vista declare Windows 7 to be superior. It has already been released to testers and members of its "technical beta program" who have spent months offering feedback and reporting bugs to help make the system better. All of that could be an advantage in a world where the public's perception of a new product is often colored by expectations that experts and other critics set.
Of course, there's room for it to stumble. Just last week some bloggers were abuzz over a "nasty" bug, although some later suggested it was an overreaction. And the process for switching from a current Windows system to the new one has been criticized as anything but simple.
The marketing for Windows 7 will be one of Microsoft's most globally oriented pushes to date. Compared to Vista and other products, Microsoft has made a far greater effort to reach a global customer base, working to make "localized" releases in more than 30 languages from Arabic to Estonian to Thai available almost simultaneously with the U.S. launch in October.
A memo from Best Buy, another Crispin client, was leaked to tech blog Engadget this summer and notes that consumers who walk into its stores will be encouraged to make the upgrades. It sums up Windows 7 as "a new operating system with improved productivity, functionality and creativity that uses less computer resources. In simpler terms, this means less waiting, fewer clicks and less complexity for end users."
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Michael Bush, Abbey Klaassen contributed to this report.