Can Microsoft beat Apple by being rational?

Microsoft's marketing execs believe in the facts, the facts, and the facts. Can this work?

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Is it enough to face the facts? Microsoft/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET
I've never been too convinced by facts.

If they were so powerful, there would surely be far fewer history books. Instead, there still doesn't seem much agreement about what happened in the Middle Ages, never mind the 20th century.

And when I buy a gadget that offers me the "fact" that it's faster, it seems so for a month or two. Then it slows down like a Xanax-crazed donkey.

Microsoft, however, believes that the way to success is through absolute rationality.

I know this because the company's global and brand management, Kathleen Hall, told Ad Age: "We're going for more of a rational appeal."

The most vivid evidence are ads released this week in which Microsoft compares its Surface Pro 3 to Apple's MacBook.

Some have compared them to Apple's "Get A Mac" ads, in which Justin Long made the slightly Gatesian John Hodgman look very slightly silly with every episode.

Hall explained the thinking like this: "We are a challenger brand in the mobile category." She conceded that Samsung had gone for a more emotional level of mockery toward Apple.

Microsoft has often fancied itself as the sensible guy. It's always wanted to be the brand that you marry, not the one you have an exciting fling with.

In its heyday, of course, there were elements of a shotgun wedding. Now, as it presents itself more of a challenger, can facts truly capture minds?

There's very little effort in these latest ads to create too much charm. There's a little joke here or there, but otherwise the focus is very much on what MacBooks can't do and the Surface can.

Of course, one rational reason why these ads compare the Surface to the MacBook is price. Compare the Surface's price to an iPad's and it doesn't seem quite as sensible a purchase.

Still, I wonder how much factual thinking goes into mobile purchases. Apple and Samsung have both developed powerful, emotional pulls.

Would Samsung ever have risen to its current heights if it hadn't released brilliant ads mocking the Apple fanperson cult, as well as phones that looked larger and therefore different?

The danger with facts is that they might even be true, but no one cares about them.

You can have the most marvelous core processor, but if, on the surface, your product isn't sexy in some way, it's unlikely that too many people will be inspired to buy it.

People are fickle, irrational, unreliable beings.

Moreover, if you happen to have a factual benefit that does cause palpitations, what's to stop a brand that already has an emotional appeal from inserting it into the next iteration of its device? (Hey, have you heard that iPhone 6 will have a bigger screen?)

If Microsoft is to have a real chance at being a close challenger, rationality will only take it so far. I suspect, not nearly as far as it would like to go.

 

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