Microsoft pours on empathy in record ad blitz

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Microsoft Corp. this week unleashes the first leg of its largest advertising campaign ever.

The work, breaking Dec. 15 with an initial flight of print and TV, is built around the theme "The business Internet." Executives say the concept embodies a commitment to helping companies find the business solutions they need.

The campaign arrives in the wake of Microsoft's antitrust case in which U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson concluded that the company wields monopolistic power in the software arena. As a result, Microsoft was challenged to keep its ad efforts on schedule and to fashion a more human identity.


It represents the first significant new creative work from McCann-Erickson/A&L, New York and San Francisco, which became the software giant's agency partner when the marketer consolidated its $300 million account in June.

John Zagula, general manager in Microsoft's business productivity group, described the creative approach as scenario-based. He added, "You'll see advertising that involves people in business situations that you can empathize with.

"As a company, and as a business, we are empathizing with the situations customers find themselves in," said Mr. Zagula. "We'll make it easier and faster to take your business into the Internet age."

Targeting a diverse group of business decisionmakers, information technology professionals and knowledge workers, the initial warm-up will give way to an advertising onslaught Dec. 22 when the company introduces a befuddled "hero" who finds himself confronted with the overwhelming need to do something about the Internet revolution. Ads will follow the evolution of the character and his coming to grips with the practical realities of the Internet.

"You'll feel his pain," Mr. Zagula said of the character. "For us to really break through as a company, we need to be humble, more human and a little humorous."

The humor, Mr. Zagula said, comes by the viewer relating to the character's plight.


The campaign -- heavy with network and cable TV, plus print and online -- will incorporate the "Where do you want to go today?" tag created by former Microsoft agency Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

"We think that the tagline is working quite well for us," Mr. Zagula said. "It adds specific relevance to our story."

But the business-services push is only the beginning of an even larger deployment set for the early February launch of Windows 2000, which will also integrate "The business Internet" concept. Ads will begin to break in January, leading up to the February product launch.

"Windows 2000 will be the most significant evidence of how our software has [changed] and will change to be totally Internet at the core," Mr. Zagula said. "It is the perfect representation that Microsoft means what it says when it says it's dedicated to helping you realize `The business Internet.' "


The effort is part of an estimated $600 million in reserved media (AA, Nov. 22) for Windows 2000 and the overall Microsoft brand.

In addition to the bevy of ads, Microsoft has updated its ubiquitous Windows logo via Landor Associates, Seattle, to better represent the integration of product and service offerings within the Windows family. The colorful Windows flag is augmented by more interlocking frames, shaded to represent various products and services.

Windows 2000 packaging reportedly will also include a soaring human form to symbolize the software's empowering quality.

"We recognized that over the last few years, Windows has changed a lot. It's not just the desktop [operating system]," said Bobbie Oglesby, group product manager, Windows branding and consumer communication. "It's the OS that powers everything from digital media appliances to servers that run mission-critical systems."

"It is very challenging to stand out in this business Internet space today because everyone is `e-something,' " said one Microsoft executive close to the campaign.

However, said one industry analyst, " `The business Internet' doesn't fall trippingly off the tongue. They want to try to position themselves as a counterpoint to IBM, which has been doing a hell of a job positioning itself as an e-business company."

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