Microsoft Leans on Handset Makers in Bid to Sell Windows Phones

Company Departs From Big Campaigns to Focus on Retail, Pushing Out Specific Devices

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Forget tugging at heart strings or appealing to the common hatred of people who text at the dinner table. Microsoft is leaving big, gooey brand campaigns behind and focusing on retail and device specs -- the stuff that can actually sell more Windows Phones.

This is quite a departure from last year's big brand push that debuted Microsoft's revamped mobile software. While that campaign was aimed at establishing the Windows Phone as the third alternative to heavyweight market leaders Android and iPhone, this time around, the onus is on manufacturer partners HTC, Samsung and Nokia to advertise specific devices to get them flying off the shelves. After kicking in extra funds toward manufacturers' ad budgets, Microsoft is also training 200,000 boots-on-the-ground salespeople to make sure consumers are getting the skinny on Windows Phone at retail.

Windows Phone launch in Manhattan's Herald Square
Windows Phone launch in Manhattan's Herald Square

Microsoft kicked off the U.S. launch of smartphones running its improved second-generation mobile software with a giant Windows Phone in Herald Square in Manhattan today, 150-times the size of a normal phone. From Macy's flagship store, the resident iPad billboard on the south end of the public square was completely obscured by the giant six-story phone.

Windows Phone chief Andy Lees, at a press event in New York, characterized marketing for the second-generation suite of devices as "rolling thunder:" devices ranging in price from $49 to $199 will come to market, country by country, over the next several months. Unlike last year's one-day launch, the wave began in Japan late this summer, Nokia Windows Phones launched in Europe and parts of Asia and manufacturers HTC and Samsung are shipping Windows Phones to the U.S. this holiday season. Nokia devices are coming to the U.S. next year.

Last year's "Phone to Save Us from Our Phones" TV spots from hot shop CPB focused on establishing the "Windows Phone" brand in the U.S., since Microsoft was unveiling its revamped, untested, mobile software with shilling specific devices a secondary concern. This year, with time to work out kinks in the second-generation software release, Microsoft spokesman Bill Cox said, it's all about pushing specific devices.

So the manufacturers, who've all abided by Microsoft's basic guidelines, such as having all the same buttons on each device, are spearheading marketing. HTC launched its global Windows Phone campaign, "In The Right Hands" last week in the U.S. and will include TV spots and print ads in 10 general-market magazines such as People, Newsweek and Esquire.

Nokia's "The Amazing Everyday" campaign is already underway in Europe, Middle East and Asia. Mr. Lees called the European saturation push Nokia's "largest single campaign ever."

Microsoft, which is kicking in funds toward manufacturer ad budgets, is also pushing common selling points across manufacturers, such as the software's "people hub" and photo sharing.

Samsung will launch the largest Windows Phone campaign in the U.S. later this month for its Focus Flash device on AT&T, which retails for under $50 and targets the 57% of Americans who still owned feature phones last quarter, by Nielsen's count. With big buys such as the YouTube homepage, the campaign is aiming to grab 900 million views online.

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