Can “cool” sell the Microsoft Surface?

By February 23, 2013advertising, positioning

Does cool sell? Let’s take a closer look.

Flashy ad featuring an equally flashy product (with incremental innovations), targeted at 20-somethings. Pretty cool right? If you’re an Apple zealot, then you’re probably familiar with Steve Job’s mantra, ‘cool products demand cool pitches’. Needless to say, the iPod “Jet” ad does not disappoint.

Now take a look at this.

Flashy ad featuring an equally flashy product (with incremental innovations), targeted at 20-somethings. Pretty cool right?…well, maybe. It appears that Microsoft is taking a page out of Apple’s playbook. But the strategy behind the Surface ad, for all intents and purposes, appears to be off base.

In the iPod ad, the visual imagery and the catchy background music are consistent with the iPod’s brand essence. In other words the ad succinctly distills iPod’s brand promise into very simple, emotionally appealing imagery. In the Surface ad, the visual imagery and the catchy background music are inconsistent with the Surface’s brand essence. I, for one, do not break dance in the office (but mostly because I don’t know how to break dance). I do, however, dance (I’m single handedly keeping the cabbage patch and the running man relevant – boo yeah!) or play air drums while listening to music on an mp3 player.

In other words, cool does sell. But cool and brand essence cannot be forced – like they are in the Surface ad.

How do you feel about the Surface Pro ad?

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Cike says:

    I think Microsoft’s marketing campaign is a miss, too, but feel like you’ve over-complicated the argument. Maybe Microsoft’s marketing team was so caught up in flashy concepts like “brand promise”, “emotional appeal”, and “essence”, that they couldn’t see (or at least accept) the obvious. It’s remarkable that no one with authority at Microsoft raised a hand and said, “Umm. Aren’t we pretty much advertising someone else’s product?”

  • Don M says:

    This ad is 100% on message.  MS doesn’t need to prove its enterprise chops.   Its problem is that the consumer device market is expanding, and the enterprise shrinking, and that consumer devices are beginning to invade the workspace.  Its solution is to attempt to merge enterprise and consumer products.  I can’t think of better imagery to symbolize this merger than precision breakdancing in the boardroom. 

  • Cike says:

    Your point about consumer devices invading the enterprise is a great one in terms of explaining Microsoft’s misguided effort. The problem is that MP3 players are not invading enterprises. Tablets and smart phones are, but not because they are cool, but because to the surprise of many that buy them, they are practical.

    Microsoft’s ad message is essentially the inverse of what is making Apple and Samsung successful. The Surface is a business device trying to be a consumer device–not the other way around. It would make more sense if a bunch of 20-somethings broke out their Microsoft tablets at a dance club and suddenly everyone starts sending emails and writing business proposals.

  • Don M says:

     –Tablets and smart phones are, but not because they are cool, but because to the surprise of many that buy them, they are practical.

    People wouldn’t buy them unless they were cool.  They exist because they are cool, and because they are useful for consumers.  They invade the workspace because they also have practical features. 

     –The problem is that MP3 players are not invading enterprises.

    People don’t buy MP3 players; they buy smartphones, which have replaced MP3 players.  And they bring them to work, and listen to them, which they can do with less discomfort than they could with a dedicated music device.  MP3 players are invading enterprises.  It would be foolishness to market a purely business phone platform, that didn’t play music or have games. 

    –The Surface is a business device trying to be a consumer device–not the other way around.

    I don’t think it is, first, and I don’t see why that matters, second.  The Surface RT came out first – a consumer device.  It looks just like the Surface Pro.  In other words, Surface is being branded as a single product line, one that is for videos and Angry Birds, and the other that does it all. 

    MS is trying to blur the distinction between business and consumer products.  I could be wrong, but that seems central to their survival strategy.  It is a risky strategy, but I don’t think they have a better choice.  Apple and Samsung CAN’T pitch to business very effectively, so I don’t think they are really deserving of kudos for doing the obvious, which is try to be cool and trendy.  MS doesn’t need to show that Powerpoint or Excel increase productivity.  They need to sell in the mobile and tablet space, and they can’t do it by being Blackberry circa 2002. 

  • Tmitev says:

    If it was a $400-500 tablet this ad could be ok….but for a $900 users will expect more that just being cool. Clear and simple messaging is what MS is missing here.

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