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Microsoft and that iPod packaging parody

The spoof video showing Microsoft redesigning the iPod box has been attracting a lot of attention, and the news that the video was created by Microsoft seems to have surprised a lot of people. For example, writing in today’s Observer John Naughton asks whether the video shows that irony has entered the Microsoft campus.

I’m a bit bemused by this, because the video’s part of an ongoing Microsoft tradition. Microsoft regularly takes the piss out of itself, although the spoofs don’t usually leak. Last year, covering Microsoft for PC Plus, I spoke to long-term Microsoft watcher Joe Wilcox and Microsoft’s UK MD, Alastair Baker:

One area Microsoft could also address is its marketing, where it’s consistently spanked by Apple. As Baker admits, “we don’t have the halo effect of the iPod” – but it isn’t helped when Microsoft hides its light under a bushel. As Joe Wilcox explains: “Our data shows that XP has tremendous entertainment capabilities built-in, but our research shows that consumers miss them because they don’t know they’re there… compare iPhoto to the comparable feature in XP, the Camera And Scanning Wizard. It’s deep in the OS, difficult to find – how do you market that? iPhoto is simple and catchy, you can build a marketing campaign around it. How do you sell the Camera and Scanning Wizard, or the Scanner and Camera Wizard? I don’t even know what it’s called!” he laughs.

Microsoft’s ads could be better, too. “When Microsoft launched Office 2003 they had these ads where someone’s made some great accomplishment and they’re all jumping about with excitement,” Wilcox recalls, “but you never saw what they’d achieved or how the software helped – although they were clearly happy about something. I’ve heard rumours that within Microsoft there’s a spoof of it; they spoof themselves a lot. There’s a bunch of people at a table, Bill Gates is at one end, and there’s a toaster in the middle; when the toast pops up they all jump around and go ‘yay! We’ve made toast!’ I’ve suggested that Microsoft takes some of the ads they make for internal use and distributes them.” It could work: after all, Apple has its iconic iPod adverts; perhaps Microsoft could use Steve Ballmer’s legendary monkey dance to promote Media Center PCs.

OK, I was wrong about the monkey dance – but the leak of the iPod spoof has generated some very positive publicity for a firm that’s usually (wrongly, in my opinion) depicted as some kind of evil empire staffed by dull corporate drones. However, while Microsoft was happily spoofing the Office 2003 ads a few years ago, the iPod short suggests that the message isn’t necessarily being heard by the marketers.

Put it this way: Apple’s next operating system is called Leopard. Microsoft’s response? Windows Vista Starter Edition, Windows Vista Home Basic Edition, Windows Vista Home Premium Edition, Windows Vista Business Edition, and Windows Vista Enterprise Edition…