Microsoft must really feel the heat from Apple's success. In a new ad campaign, the technology behemoth targets the hidden costs of iPod ownership. There's also a confusing leak pointing to a potential Zune-based phone that's due in June.
There were already Microsoft ads highlighting what's supposed to be an "Apple Tax"—the high cost of buying a Mac—that focus on a range of cheaper PC laptops with similar specs. But its latest campaign is totally crackers: The tag line says that filling an iPod will cost you $30,000. Of course Microsoft offers an alternative with its Zune media players and $15 per month Zune Pass subscription service, and in comparison with Apple's solution which "costs a lot," Microsoft's option will cost you "a little."
Like Microsoft's recent illogical defense against E.U. antitrust rulings, this smacks of desperation. Its core argument is that the best-selling media player, combined with the number one music retailer in the U.S. costs more than Microsoft's line of MP3 players that have been on the market for years, but have never achieved significant penetration. In other words, the consumer is stupid for not choosing Microsoft.
The advert doesn't work on many levels. Let's first begin with the fact that consumers are not stupid. No, consumers are money-savvy, particularly at this moment of global financial crisis. The iPod and iTunes ecosystem combined with the iPhone are a triumph of product and UI design, whereas the Zune just really isn't. And there are many other sources for MP3s, from converting your old CDs to buying tracks from Amazon. And the average iPod user also fills it with movie files, photos, documents, and in some cases (like with the iTouch and iPhone) even apps—it's a multipurpose device and external hard drive too.
But that hasn't stopped Microsoft from trying. Recently, intrigue around a new Zune launch arose from some Tweets from a Microsoft site that's vaguely related to the Zune. The first from Tweeter @officethemovie, promoting Office 2010, said "June 2009 will be an important month for Zune lovers," while the second adds another wrinkle: "New product launch, that's all I'm allowed to say. Hold off from buying an iPhone/Pre."
Gizmodo's examined the provenance of the Tweets, and remains unsure about their legitimacy. But the timeframe certainly fits: June is when the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference takes place, and that's where the next iPhone is supposed to be revealed. And a number of leaks suggest June 7th is the Palm Pre's launch date. Choosing this timeframe for a new Zune—possibly with HD video, or maybe a Zunephone launch, given the phone references—would certainly draw some limelight Microsoft's way.
But perhaps Microsoft should remember a bright light doesn't necessarily illuminate the best features of a product. Rather, it could throw their ugly ad campaign into sharp relief. Maybe if the software giant produced a fabulous, innovative product that wooed the consumer rather than sniping at how stupid they are, it would sell well.
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