In desperate need for something – anything – to stop the advance of the iPad and Android, Microsoft is trying to convince consumers that the PC is as modern a computing device as any tablet.
On Monday, Microsoft will hit US TV audiences with a new ad campaign that updates its "I'm a PC" spot from a few years back, which was orchestrated by the brains at Crispin Porter + Bogusky to pluck the Windows brand from the Vista quagmire.
The latest ads feature "real-life" couples who thought their "old" PC – that's four plus years ago in Microsoft's terminology, or Windows XP in ours - was "good enough". According to a Microsoft statement, here:
The couples, when face-to-face with the breadth of PCs available, are happy to discover the unparalleled variety of features, power, eye-popping colors, textures and designs of Windows PCs. Through the ads you will see each family discover the wide variety of style and software benefits that a new Windows 7 PC can bring to their everyday life.
The twist is a home invasion, with the PC store set up inside the skeptic's home. The idea is to convince the skeptical and the incredulous just how much PCs have changed.
The most telling comment from the first ad featuring a poor, unsuspecting Brit called Julie ends up highlighting Microsoft's predicament and showing just how unexciting PCs have become in the face of Apple and Google.
In a room with laptops literally peeking over her shoulder, Julie chirps "So there is no tower anymore?" before taking a peek behind the monitor-based device to make sure.
The idea behind Microsoft's original "I'm a PC" ads came from somebody else. That somebody else was, as ever, Apple. In 2007, Apple ran the wickedly satirical "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" ads, lodging the name of John Hodgeman – the rotund PC guy – in the zeitgeist alongside with Stephen Colbert, Twitter, and Justin Bieber.
In a deft move, Microsoft's ad men neutralized the cheeky Apple campaign – which made PCs out to be slow and boring – by actually embracing the satire and making Apple look elitist by belittling the everyman PC user, which there are many more of, compared to Mac users. Microsoft got customers - and even Bill G himself – to stand up proudly, extoll their machine's creative and productivity virtues, and proclaim: "yes, I'm a PC".
But Apple moved on. It killed the Mac-PC ads duo, and it now runs infuriatingly smug TV ads about the simplicity, brilliance, and indispensable nature of the iPad 2. Nobody raves about these.
But why should Apple care? iPad sales from its most recent quarter were roughly half those of all Macs – $2.8bn versus $4.9bn. The Mac is 25 years older than the iPad. Despite what it feels like, the iPad just turned one year old.
Microsoft hasn't moved on. We're still waiting for a successful Windows-powered tablet to answer the iPad. The first beta for Windows 8, supposedly Redmond's tablet savior, is still at least four months away, and the great stream of tablet money still flows Steve Jobs' way.
In the meantime, Microsoft is left trying to convince ordinary Joes and Julies just how far Windows desktops and laptops have come so that they bypass an iPad in favor or a PC – or at least move their PC to Windows 7. ®