MICROSOFT TURNS TO BIZ 'COMMUNITY': BRAND ADS SHIFT FROM SMALL TOWN TO SMALL BUSINESS

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Microsoft Corp. will look at the "community" of business in its next wave of brand spots, breaking May 24. The ads wrap up a series that earlier looked at how technology helped build community in a small town and in a junior high school.

Four new TV spots focus on the Great Harvest Bread Co., a national chain of franchised stores that uses the Internet -- and a heavy dose of Microsoft software -- to allow its store owners to exchange ideas and run their businesses.

The new advertising has the feel of recent Microsoft commercials that focused on the wired world of tiny Lusk, Wyo., and an Arizona middle school.

The campaign will run on network and cable TV through Microsoft's fiscal year -- ending June 30 -- alongside existing spots profiling Microsoft employees.

BROAD APPEAL OF STORY

Director of Advertising Eric Koivisto said Microsoft and brand agency Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., chose Great Harvest as a small-business success story that would appeal broadly to business people and consumers.

Microsoft didn't want the typical tech ad case study in which a tech seller promotes how a key customer uses its products. For those who want to know more, however, Microsoft will include detailed information on the technology behind Great Harvest at www.microsoft.com.

The stars in the spots, such as an energetic store owner in Wayne, Pa., come off as sincere, enthusiastic and real.

"What we wanted to do was to align ourselves with the values and the philosophy of the people who make up Great Harvest," Mr. Koivisto said.

SOFTENING MICROSOFT IMAGE

The spots also attempt to deliver on Microsoft's goal to show the good that comes from Microsoft's technology, and to soften the powerful company's image.

Ads continue the 5-year-old tag, "Where do you want to go today?"

Mr. Koivisto said the tagline is more relevant than ever given how the Internet has connected computers and computer users.

Microsoft is expected to spend about $130 million globally in fiscal 1999 on TV brand advertising, with the bulk being spent in the U.S. on the community campaign.

Though tech ad insiders long have criticized Microsoft's advertising privately as lacking the focus and appeal of ads from high-tech rivals, Microsoft gives no indication it sees a need to shift gears.

ADS TO EVOLVE

Mr. Koivisto said Microsoft expects to return next fiscal year with an evolution of the community ads, rather than a new direction.

Last month, Microsoft dropped Wieden from its flagship Windows as it prepares for the critical launch of Windows 2000. It invited its other U.S. agency, Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco, to team up with parent McCann-Erickson Worldwide to pitch Windows, but the account hasn't yet been assigned.

Mr. Koivisto strongly affirmed Microsoft's relationship with Wieden on the brand assignment, however, saying Microsoft regards the community campaign as the best and most effective body of TV work it has ever aired.

"We've hit home runs before [on single spots], but I would say this is our best

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