Windows XP takes to the air

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Microsoft Corp. faced a huge challenge when developing the marketing strategy for Windows XP: how to effectively communicate the benefits of the operating system to both business and consumer customers.

As if that weren’t enough of a hurdle, the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 caused the software giant to change the working tagline of its campaign, "Prepare to fly," and redo ads already in production, including TV commercials.

However, by working closely with its agency, McCann-Erickson Worldwide Inc., San Francisco, Microsoft responded quickly and found an effective new way to communicate the product message through a $200 million integrated campaign with the tagline "Yes you can." The campaign, featuring TV, print, outdoor and online ads, launched Oct. 15, which was 10 days before the product launch.

"We have a great product that delivers so much to so many," said Stephanie Ferguson, director of the PC experience solutions marketing group at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, pointing to features such as digital photography, instant messaging, video conferencing, voice and wireless applications for business and consumer users.

"How do we map this out in terms of a singular focus for our advertising? It came down to empowerment on multiple levels for end users and IT professionals."

McCann started working on the campaign in March and came up with images of people soaring over green fields and across blue skies to visualize this concept of empowerment. The image of the grass and sky, called "bliss," is the first screen that appears when users boot up the software, and it is used consistently throughout the XP advertising.

The original tagline and creative execution came under scrutiny after Sept. 11, when most companies re-examined their advertising to make sure images were suitable in the wake of the hijacked airplane attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"We didn’t think [the tagline "Prepare to fly"] was appropriate," Ferguson said. She noted the new tagline is still in keeping with Microsoft’s core strategy of communicating the power of XP.

Some TV commercials had to be reworked, as well as print and online ads. Ferguson declined to disclose the cost of revamping the ads.

‘Ray of Light’

Another key element of the campaign is the use of a song by Madonna titled "Ray of Light," which plays on TV and online ads.

"We looked at a range of songs and wanted music that would communicate a sense of empowerment, with people flying around and experiencing new things," said Michael McLaren, exec VP at McCann in San Francisco.

The TV ads are running on prime-time programming such as "Monday Night Football" and "The West Wing."

While the integrated campaign is aimed at business users and consumers, Microsoft narrowed the messages to specific product features, such as wireless and video conferencing, in its print b-to-b ads that are appearing in such trade magazines as PC World, PC Magazine and Wired.

"The biggest business value [of the product] is the reliability," McLaren said. "The system is so reliable, IT guys can focus on stuff that is really adding value to the business. So the business messages focus on reliability, real-time communications and mobility."

One ad shows a woman standing up at her laptop computer at home while holding a baby. The copy reads, "Make the meeting in Prague. Make the dinner at home."

IT focus

Additional b-to-b print ads now in development will focus even more on IT applications, such as remote technical support and diagnostics, McLaren said.

One ad has copy reading "24,300 employees. Keep them running." The ads will break after the first of the year in IT trade books, although the media schedule has not been set.

Another element of the campaign was a pre-launch online promotion that offered a chance to win a Sony Corp. Vaio PC running XP. During the first five weeks of the campaign, Microsoft online advertising jumped from 8% of total ads in the software industry to almost 30%, according to Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. The XP campaign generated half a billion impressions.

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