Free Marketing Advice: Microsoft, I Want to Help You

by Randall Cleveland

If you missed the news, Microsoft recently unveiled their new "iPad killer" (I don't know if they're actually billing it as such or if that's just what tech news junkies decided to call it; it's tough to pinpoint from where the term originated): Surface. It's a tablet PC, an idea so completely revolutionary you'd forget they already did this back in 2002. They spent a lot of time, money, and marketing on getting people excited about it.

Then it froze during the presentation.

I'm not here to pick on Microsoft about that, though. Gaffes like that can and do happen to anyone during live presentations all the time; it's just fun to laugh at the poor guy's misfortune as he handles (like a pro, I might add) the unforeseen failure and stammers his way through. What I really want to talk about is the presentation itself: bold monochromatic screens, smooth sans-serif font, a balding guy in a sweater holding a shiny piece of technology…are you really going to make me say it, Microsoft?

Stop trying to be Apple.

Seriously. I'm not an Apple fanboy or even apologist. I'm writing this on a MacBook Air solely because that's what the company bought for me to do my job. If it were a Lenovo or Dell or some other non-Apple device I would use it instead. I'm not trying to argue why one is superior or one is pure evil or that anyone who uses either of them is dumb. I'm here to offer my services as a one-man marketing department. Because Microsoft, you desperately need a new marketing department.

So for a mere $1 million consulting fee I'll come up with a far superior (to what you're currently doing, anyway) advertising plan. In fact, I'll give it to you right now, over the web, if you promise to send me the $1 million. No? What if you just credit me for the plan? Okay, sure, I guess you want to hear the plan first. Fine. Here it is:

Put out a commercial that says you're not Apple.

Seriously. That's it. That's how easy it will be. Look, you're never going to convince people in the thrall of the great Jobs to come over the wall, so stop worrying about them. You also don't have to worry about diehard computer users who are already sold on being able to gut their machines and build their own rig and seek out the best performance for their needs; you win them by default, pretty much, unless Linux suddenly bursts onto the mainstream. No, what you need to do is cater to those middle of the road folks who need a computer, not necessarily a $2,000 video editing bay and not necessarily a hulking CPU wired through a lawn mower body that must be super-cooled or else it will burn a hole in their floor. You need those regular Joe customers.

And to get regular Joe customers, you have to advertise like regular Joes. Stop with the fancy faux-Apple shimmer. Present yourself thusly: "Hey. We're Microsoft. We make stuff that works. If you want shiny, great. Spend a few extra bucks and get yourself something shiny. If you want something reliable, versatile, and upgradeable, then come talk to us. And save a couple bucks because we didn't have to license any indie music for this ad."

Short. Simple. Sweet. No fake hipsterism, no blatant appeal to image-conscious youth, and no backlash when you fail miserably for trying to be cooler than you are. I get it, Microsoft, I do. You're worried about being the "old guys" while Apple gobbles up all the kids with their shiny iPods and stuff. But the fact is you already ARE the old guys. And that's okay. You're the guys people turn to when they want something affordable, when they want something they can attempt to fix themselves, or when they want something they can actually try to add to later down the road. That's your niche: good ol' reliable Microsoft. There's a lot to be said for honesty in advertising (or, even better, cultivating the illusion of honesty in your advertising); people respect a brand that admits its shortcomings so you can better judge its strengths. At least that's what we tell ourselves here. So chill out, stop trying to out-market Apple, and just focus on your bread and butter.

And seriously, never do a live demonstration again. 

(you can make the check for $1 million out to "CASH")