Microsoft are in a strange position. Despite still producing the operating system that holds the dominant position in the market, still producing the office platform that holds the dominant position in the market, and still producing the dominant web browser, they are seen as being under threat. The reason? Their share of the market held by their products is not as high as it used to be, as the competition is making gains. More than that being the dominant platform they are the prime target for a variety of viruses and malware, and if they aren’t being criticised for the security issues in their software, it is their business practices that got them to the dominant position in the first place.
Being pragmatic you could argue that with the position they held about the only way their share could go is down, putting aside the interventions of the EU and the US government, even in a market that they dominate quite as much, competing companies can still come out with innovative products and change the balance. For example Google came out of nowhere and Microsoft were left scrabbling to compete. However you could also argue that Microsoft themselves have caused some of their problems. Vista was very poorly recieved by many people, both in terms of performance where it was visibly slower than XP, and from simple usability where the security features were downright obstructive. So many professionals ended up sticking with or rolling back to XP. I can also show you a number of end users who are continually frustrated with their Vista machines who wished they could have XP instead. The latest Office wasn’t quite so bad but the ribbon bar didn’t go down well, nor did the new file format – for example one member of the church regularly has to send round documents twice because he is using Office 2007 and his documents are incompatible with the older versions in use by other people.
Probably the most high profile perceived competition to their core product is the ever resurgent Apple. While it is certainly not making much of an impact in the corporate world, Apple is certainly making inroads into the home PC market. Whether it is thanks to their advertising, the much vaunted halo effect from the iPod, the distinctive design of the products, or a combination of all three, Apple computers are selling in larger numbers than they ever have.
Looking at the Apple advertising campaigns that directly targeted the PC market, first off we had the switcher campaign. This consisted of a series of real, sometimes celebrity users talking about their experiences and why they switched to the Mac. The Microsoft response was frankly an embarrassment, with them being caught faking a Mac to PC switcher.
Since then we’ve had the Get a Mac campaign. All the adverts follow the same general structure, opening with a relaxed looking casually dressed man introducing himself as a Mac, and a more straight laced man in a suit introducing himself as a PC. The advert then compares some aspect of the PC with the Mac, including crashing PC’s, changes in Vista, and numerous other perceived issues with the PC platform compared to the Mac.
Interestingly, Microsoft haven’t repeated the direct attack on the adverts as they did with the old switcher campaigns. We’ve had a bit of a mix, including most recently the criticised Mojave Experiment. Even with their latest campaign, it didn’t seem they were going to do that, as they started off with two adverts featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld that were frankly bizarre, before moving on to phase two.
Phase two for the first time seems to directly attack the Get a Mac campaign, opening with someone who has obviously been cast to look just like the PC in the original adverts (although certain people seem to think he looks a lot worse) and then follow that up with a large variety of other people, including celebrities again, who also say they are PC’s.
Interesting things to note are that there are Microsoft employees in there, whose e-mail addresses are posted on the screen during the advert, but also note that Vista isn’t mentioned at all, and also that aside from addressing the stereotype in the Apple advert, it doesn’t address anything else in those adverts – the message of the advert is basically that lots of different people use a PC.
It has to be said, that after the fallout from the Mojave Experiment, and the bemused responses to the Jerry Seinfeld adverts, the response to this advert has been pretty good, and I’m pretty sure that given that the Get a Mac campaign has been going for two years it will bring a new campaign from Apple in response. But then is the new Microsoft campaign saying anything other than lots of people use PC’s?
Update: A little post-script to this story – a revelation that has caused much merriment amongst the Mac faithful – the advert may show lots of people who use PC’s, but the people who made the advert aren’t one of them, as the advert was put together on a Mac.