Ode to a marketing blitzkrieg

Microsoft has launched a new tablet.  What?  You haven’t heard?  You must be complete disconnected from the online world.  Or, as Microsoft sees it, they haven’t breached that medium with advertising…yet.  The tablet market is a funny thing these days.  Apple has long held dominance with innovation and years of brilliant marketing.  Better competing products have bubbled to the Surface (pun intended) in the past but the Apple marketing machine has often dominated our media.

Commercialism aside – enough in that subject for two dissertations – it seems the best way to launch into the crowded tablet market is, well, marketing.  Apple adds have become simple in nature, almost music video-esque.  It works, but it’s growing old.  Certainly they have achieved the all-important instant recognition when the commercial airs but it has come at the cost of bleeding edge innovation.  It could be argued, and it is, that most of Apple’s success is purely marketing at this point.  This shouldn’t be a bad thing, however.  Both sides of the “mobile wars” need to consider that the large majority of consumers in this market don’t care about screen res, CPU specs, RAM and a whole other assortment of acronyms.  Should we discredit the significance of hardware specs?  No, but we shouldn’t make that our basis on what sells.  Marketing sells and Apple does it well.  We’ll leave that discussion alone before I get accused of fanboydom.

We’ve seen a big marketing push in the last few years to out market Apple.  The major players – Google, Samsung, Sony – have all taken their turn with mixed success.  The problem is they were trying to out market the company that mastered and saturated marketing.  Many have had briefly glowing moments of marketing success but they haven’t been quite as able to turn it into sales like Apple has.  Certainly Samsung has come across a formula that does well in the mobile market, leading Apple in market share, but their tablets are still lagging.  One company that has been remarkably silent through this journey is Microsoft.  While the rest of the tech world has been scrambling to create bigger (or smaller) and better tables the folks at the MS camp have been silently brooding.  The once tech giant had been labelled as innovatively dead and stagnant.  Outside of their software suites and video game console there wasn’t much going on there.  But 2012 has changed all that.

This brings us around full circle to the Microsoft Surface.  Full disclosure: I have not seen or used the new Surface with Windows 8 RT.  I fully plan on getting my grubby paws on a Surface Pro once they hit the shelves for review (if I can).  I have, however, been using a Windows 7 phone for nearly 2 years now.  I also used extensively the consumer preview of Windows 8.  Both offer good glimpses into one of the major pieces a platform has to have to compete in the tablet world.  The mobile OS just has to be killer; intuitive, fast, attractive and simple.  Microsoft nails all these down in a very unique way.  No arguments here that Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 (in full) are great systems that tick many boxes.  I’m suspicious of Windows 8 RT and the strategy of releasing a tablet on a stripped down operating system.  Risky move in a very competitive market and industry reviews seem to shine negatively on it.

But marketing is where Microsoft seems to have really stepped up.  They’ve never really been known for successful campaigns.  Recently, however, that may be changing.  The current running ad (in Canada) is a face paced clever piece that certainly creates visual appeal.  It doesn’t really highlight the features and functionality of the device, however.  Apple ads do, but only to some extent and still on a purely visual level.  What MS has done, however, is take it a step further in several popular TV shows.  They use the surface in the context of how they want their customers to use it.  You can literally see, in a sense the Surface in action in business, at play and -in one case- on the toilet.  The screen images are still simulated but the practical use of the product triggers that “I could see myself doing that” reaction much better.  In fact the lack of iPads being used, contrasted with the obvious Surface being used, leaves a longer impression of the pure usability of the Surface.  It does for me personally at least.

I remember when I saw the first use of the Surface by Sherlock in Elementary.  It was done without pomp and circumstance and it flowed with his action; researching a criminal.  It was plainly obvious that it was Microsoft and it was Windows 8 but still managed to maintain it’s organic flow.  The same occurred on NCIS.  It only stood out to me because I was impressed with the level of “infiltration” Microsoft has bought the Surface.  It’s a clever move on their part to try and insert the hardware in pop culture where it wasn’t before.

Time, however, will ultimately be the judge.  Christmas season is closing on us and once the numbers drop the true success, or failure, of the marketing will be clear.

For more information on the Surface, click here: Microsoft Surface.  For more info on the iPad, click here: Apple iPad

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