Microsoft debuts 'agile' software

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Returning to its software roots, Microsoft Corp. today breaks an estimated $250 million ad campaign that highlights the company's flexible software solutions large enterprises need not only to survive, but to thrive in today's increasingly turbulent business environment.

The "Agility" campaign from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, represents the first serious effort by Microsoft to build a unified effort focused squarely on its relevance to large corporations. A series of TV spots, print and outdoor executions subtly yet playfully deliver the message that Microsoft equals powerful, reliable software that gives businesses a competitive edge. The campaign uses the tagline "Software for the agile business," which Microsoft introduced recently in business advertising for Windows 2000 Professional products (AA, Jan. 1).

The agility proposition is one Microsoft executives believe will stand as an umbrella positioning over time and is in keeping with the evolution of its .NET business strategy of delivering software and services via the Internet. "This is a long-term proposition for Microsoft," said Mike Delman, general manager-advertising, events and packaging for Microsoft. Mr. Delman maintains that the agility theme complements Microsoft's longtime "Where do you want to go today?" tagline, which remains a corporate mantra and continues to appear in collateral and consumer advertising.

"Traditionally, we've been very fragmented in our communications and ultimately, we wanted a cohesive, clear message," Mr. Delman said, explaining the new ads are designed to target Microsoft's myriad customers, from software developers and IT professionals to business decision-makers and knowledge-workers who toil at companies large and small. In focusing on the core benefits of its software, Microsoft hones in on what it believes successful businesses need most-robust software to streamline business processes and improve the bottom line even in an uncertain economy.

Microsoft is not alone in extolling the virtues of software that enables businesses to execute and win in a volatile landscape. SAP, IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems and other competitors have used similar positioning. Of those efforts, Mr. Delman commented: "I don't think the crux of their communications are about reliability and scalability. ... The bottom line is Microsoft is better positioned than just about anybody to deliver on software to give you a business benefit."

Initially, four 30-second TV spots, destined for network and cable TV, function as parables of the New Economy to highlight the critical role software plays. In "Airport," a woman places a notebook PC case on the airport security conveyor belt and as it goes through, voice-over tells her tale: "A vice president is embarking on a long trip to cement a deal with a new supplier in Dubai. This computer will journey with her. Its software will link to the home office to analyze the supplier's product line and service records. The software will keep in touch daily so the computer will not become homesick. Always mobile, and never yearning. Enterprise software from Microsoft." The "Software for the agile business" tagline appears onscreen.

"The creative concept is significant for its low-key, understated, confident approach," said Michael McLaren, exec VP-director of client services on the Microsoft account at McCann. Microsoft software "is a calm force against this vista of frenetic change, the rise and fall of the dot-com environment, the need to enable most of your core business processes [as well as] mergers and the implications of what that means to companies' infrastructure," Mr. McLaren noted.

At least three more TV ads are planned. Print ads will begin to appear in mid-February in business and news magazines, trade publications and major newspapers such as USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Print will feature examples of how Microsoft software is being used by customers such as Viacom's CBS, L'Oreal USA's Maybelline brand and U.K.-based retailer Marks & Spencer. Outdoor advertising is destined for Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Globally, Microsoft will extend the agility theme, but allow local markets to decide how to execute the creative.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo

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