Why Now, Vista 'Wow'?
Published: July 16, 2008
by Alex Woodie
It's been a year and a half since Microsoft launched Windows Vista under its 'Wow' campaign. Like almost every product the company rolls out these days, Microsoft promised the Vista launch would be the biggest launch for the most successful product in the company's history. While the hype was hot and heavy, the actual product and sales were, to put it bluntly, a flop. Microsoft executives are now admitting some mea culpas with the Vista launch, and promising to rekindle the wow. But is it too little, too late?
Brad Brooks, corporate vice president of Windows consumer product marketing, talked about Windows Vista at last week's Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, Texas. Brooks was lamenting the "myths around Windows Vista," and suggested how the company would dispel them..
"So, what are we doing about it?" Brooks asked his audience rhetorically. "Today, we're making a statement. We're drawing a line right here on this stage that we're going to do things differently going forward. We're going to tell our story--our story, the real Windows Vista story."
Whew. Those are strong words for a consumer marketing guy. Typically, marketing professionals don't couch things in such stark black-and-white contexts. They don't talk about the unbending part of our physical world that cannot be bent to their will. Instead, they like to focus on the malleable components of this life, like human creativity and the as-yet unrealized possibilities deep within each of us. Microsoft's Windows marketing team has been very good at this through the years, and it's a large part of Microsoft's success.
But Brooks was on a roll. He was jumping out of his traditional role as cheerleader and salesperson, and promising to tell us the "real story" of Windows Vista.
The story starts, as all stories must, "at the beginning, with the creation of Windows Vista," Brooks says. "We had an ambitious plan. We made some significant investments around security in this product. And you know what, those investments, they broke some things. They broke a lot of things. We know that. And we know it caused you a lot of pain in front of your customers, in front of our customers. And it got a lot of customers thinking, and even yourselves and our partners thinking, Hey, is Windows Vista a generation that I want to make an investment in?'"
It's somewhat refreshing to hear a Microsoft executive--let alone one of Redmond's marketers--admit what we've been seeing all along: that Windows Vista is not nearly as popular as Microsoft initially made it out to be. Instead, Vista was late to market, lacked key features, was incompatible with existing applications, lacked hardware drivers, required considerable hardware resources, and was more expensive than its predecessor, Windows XP. As a result, customers didn't buy Vista, which in turn further cooled developers' interest in supporting it with their applications.
But this is all in the past, according to Brooks, and today Vista is making significant inroads among developers. Some of Vista's most glaring driver compatibility issues have been addressed by third-party developers, and with Vista Service Pack 1 out the door, corporate customers are finally expected to begin upgrading their PCs to Vista. So Vista's outlook is a little brighter (which isn't surprising, because it couldn't have gotten much darker).
Brooks grabbed onto what little momentum Vista has generated, and tried to propel it forward. He called on Microsoft's partners to not skip Windows Vista in favor of Windows 7, which is at least two years away, because Windows 7 will be based on the Windows Vista architecture, Brooks says. "Make the investment now," Brooks says. "It's going to pay it forward into the next generation of the operating system that we call Windows 7."
To drum up interest in the 18-month-old operating system, Microsoft has started a new advertising campaign, beginning with ads in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. "The messages are going to start blasting the airwaves as we start to build it up, and the message is going to be pretty simple: Move to Windows Vista," Brooks says.
The campaign will also feature a Windows Vista Compatibility Center Web site, where people can see if their applications or devices will work with Vista. Brooks declined to reveal additional elements of the campaign, other than to say there will be more to come in the weeks ahead, and that it will "hit a crescendo in the next couple of months."
The big question for Microsoft is: Why now? When Vista launched in January 2007, Microsoft sounded confident that, with an huge eight-or-nine-figure "Wow Starts Now" hype campaign and world tour, Vista's market success was in the bag. They were wrong, and Microsoft abruptly ended nearly all consumer marketing soon after.
When Wow went down, Apple filled the void with its clever PC-bashing Macintosh ads. A key component of the Microsoft's new Windows ad campaign will be combating Apple's ads. "We've got a pretty noisy competitor out there," Brooks says. "You know it, I know it. It's had an impact, been a source of frustration for you, but today, that line, we're going to start to challenge. We're going to get our story back out into the marketplace."
It looks like Apple has stirred a sleeping giant. The question remains whether Microsoft's money is better spent preparing users for the new era of software plus Web services, as embodied in its Windows Live offerings, instead of a desktop-only product that will be replaced in a couple of years. Considering Microsoft's record for delivering new products on time, placing some chips on the aging Vista hand isn't a bad way for Microsoft to hedge its bet.
Developers Cool to Vista, Evans Study Finds
Vista SP1 Released Through Windows Update, XP SP3 Next Up
Microsoft Hits Record Revenues, But Vista Sales Forecast Lowered
Windows Vista Sales Are Hot, Hot, Hot! Microsoft Says
Windows Vista: It's All About the Security
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