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…

17 thoughts on “Microsoft and that iPod packaging parody

  1. Tony Kiernan says:

    Are the blokes with plastic dinosaur heads Microsoft ads? I suspect the fact that I have to ask that says everything about the success of the campaign.

    That said, the market position enjoyed by MS probably means they’re not quite so marketting obsessed. “Yay, it’ll do. Hey, I’ve not caused us to fold before”. Or something like that.

  2. paul says:

    I’d imagine Microsoft is as obsessed by marketing as Apple. I think Scoble hit the nail on the head when he said: “Microsoft is a consensus culture and consensus (which means everyone has to sign off on things) does avoid trouble, but it also makes for uninspired products and marketing.”

  3. Gary says:

    Tony, the placcy dinosaurs are Microsoft, yeah. They also run the “we see…” adverts where a photo of someone with a laptop has a crudely drawn pencil fort around it. Not great.

    > think Scoble hit the nail on the head

    Yeah, I think that sums it up. Too many people with their fingers in the product pie.

  4. Stephen says:

    From what one reads about Steve Jobs, it would appear he is an absolute dictator about every aspect of Apple from its design to its marketing. Now if your dictator has great taste, brilliant ideas, and is driven to perfectionism, then you apparently get Apple. While Gates was Microsoft’s dictator back in the day, I doubt he ever got very involved with marketing: he doesn’t seem the type who is overly obsessed with appearances, design etc and thus was probably content from quite early on to let the “professionals” handle it. But without a driving creative vision, the “pros” just churn out “me-too” stuff that is designed to please, yes, a committee.

    And then, of course, when you are handed a monopoly on a platter by the world’s biggest computer manufacturer, there must be a tendency to say “Marketing? We don’t need no steenkin’ marketing!”

  5. Gary says:

    > From what one reads about Steve Jobs, it would appear he is an absolute dictator about every aspect of Apple from its design to its marketing.

    Apparently so, yeah.

    > Now if your dictator has great taste, brilliant ideas, and is driven to perfectionism, then you apparently get Apple.

    *cough*Cube!*cough*

    > But without a driving creative vision, the “pros” just churn out “me-too” stuff that is designed to please, yes, a committee.

    Nail. Head.

    I think it’s a case of trying not to alienate anybody, whereas I think that’s a risk Apple regularly takes – so for example I wouldn’t spit on the iPod Hi-Fi if it was on fire, but I could wax lyrical about my powerbook for a million years. Whereas with Microsoft stuff I find that I don’t really get passionate about it either way.

    Apart from the Xbox. I love my Xbox :)

  6. Gary says:

    Actually, while we’re on the subject of Apple vs Microsoft I find that my attitude to their high heid yins is quite different: Jobs seems rather smug and sinister, whereas Gates is quite puppyish. And from a work point of view, dealing with Microsoft is generally a joy while dealing with Apple is considerably less so.

  7. david says:

    You *so* have to get a 360. ;-)

    Actually that’s something that the marketing has been very non-microsoft. For example one of their ads got pulled for being too violent or something.

  8. david says:

    Not really. The only big one was the supply issue and a lot of the issues are down to companies like Amazon completely screwing up the pre-order thing.

    It became the biggest tech news story in the UK over christmas and current 360 titles are outselling original xbox ones so they can’t have done it that badly.

    D

  9. tm says:

    Don’t be too fooled by the sales figures. What has really happened is that the bottom has dropped out of the xbox and gamecube markets in particular in expectation of the new consoles. It is as much a matter of xbox units sales going down (that’s politley putting it – dropping off a cliff is more like it) than the 360 really burning up at retail. I own one and the games line up is hardly making my hair stand on end. A few of them are pretty decent though.

    Oh and shouldn’t everyone posting on this thread just go back and read accidental empires again? For a one line summation of steve jobs you can’t do any better than that.

  10. david says:

    That was GR:AW which is Ubisoft’s fastest selling title ever with 240,000 copies in the first week of sale.

  11. david says:

    >>A few of them are pretty decent though.

    Personally PGR3, COD2, GR:AW and FNR3 are all particularly impressive so far.

    Tony Hawks, however, sucks ass.

  12. Gary says:

    I wonder, do the sales figures include bundles? Because certainly round these parts, I haven’t seen Xbox 360s available without games…

  13. tm says:

    No bundle? Just walk into HMV and ask for one. Seriously, I did.

    GR – Yeah I know but that’s just one game. And I wasn’t meaning that sales aren’t doing ok, just that you can’t read to much into this gen vs. prev gen comparisons.

    I guess we have now got over the worst of the shortages. And that is a release accross all teritories at once isn’t it? Is that usual for ubisoft? Also ubisoft are not really a particularly successfull company in the grand scheme of things. I can’t ever remember a ubisoft title that really stormed off the shelves. Particularly not in recent years when the installed base of the consoles had risen so dramtically. Lots of dross and the odd ‘slow burner hit’ really. I mean far cry is stunning, but it’s on PC, so sales tend to be steady rather than stunning and it’s guns were a bit spiked by the looming half life 2. Prince of persia was well liked but sold *nothing*.

    See – you can make a solid case for it being a meaningless blip pretty easily… ;-)

    lies, damned lies and sales figures I guess.

    I’m loving burnout revenge on my 360 though. But I suppose I *could* have been loving it on my xbox about 4 or 5 months ago…

  14. tm says:

    Incindently, belatedly returning to the orginal topic, the best thing about the 360 so far is its most apple like feature. The Xbox live integration is easy to set up, well (and occasionally even innovatively) implmented and (so far at least) solid as a rock. Oh and it’s fairly pretty too. For a computer interface.

    Taking into account apples stuff not usually being either as original or robust as the hype would have you believe that is just about an exact match to a typical apple delivery.

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