Microsoft Vista: It's Not as Bad as You Think!

But the Marketing Is Still Pretty Lousy

By Published on .

In its massively expensive and massively dubious attempt to reform image problems suffered by its Vista operating system, Microsoft has turned to a hidden-camera approach to show that its flop of a new OS isn't as bad as you probably think.

In a new online campaign, a bunch of Windows XP, Mac and Linux users who haven't upgraded to Vista because of its nasty word of mouth are brought into a sterile focus-group setting to play around with what they're told is a new operating system called Mojave. These ordinary folks -- many of whom could be Twitter buddies of the PC Guy on those Apple ads now torturing Redmond -- rave, naturally, about Mojave. More than 90% give positive feedback. Then there comes the "Punk'd"-style reveal that Mojave is really Vista. The only thing missing is Ashton Kutcher.

Actually, the other thing missing is anything approaching entertainment value. The footage is bland and unengaging. And, if you force yourself to wade through the videos as I did, the idea doesn't hold up to any real skepticism. All you get to see are the positive reactions to Vista. What you don't see is the walkthrough, if any, the Microsoft employee gave these people, nor do you witness how they interact with an OS that's been savaged for, among other things, not playing well with any number of popular software programs. The effect is to make the experiment look stilted or, worse, lacking in credibility. And it does nothing to make you believe that Vista is somehow more intuitive or, simply, better than you thought. What this kind of gimmick does do is point out how bad Microsoft is at communicating its products' advantages.

A CNET piece suggested this was an internal program not designed by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the agency now working on TV ads to put some sheen on Vista. Neither Microsoft nor Crispin responded to queries, but the idea is definitely reminiscent of Crispin's awesome Whopper Freakout for Burger King, which trained hidden cameras on customers who, after they were told they couldn't buy a Whopper, properly freaked out. Needless to say, the weirdness and the funniness of a bunch of fast food-devotees reacting to something as off-kilter as a restaurant discontinuing its flagship product doesn't carry over to a bunch of office drones marveling over previously undiscovered bells and whistles on an operating system. (Love that security feature! An easy-to-find calculator? Woooo-hoooo!)

All in all, it's a lifeless execution that, if it's at all indicative of what Microsoft is readying for its forthcoming $300 million mass-media bludgeoning, will probably do one thing really well: provide more fodder for Apple in its long-running beat-down of the Microsoft brand.
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