How Microsoft plans to sell Windows Phone 7

In an interview, Microsoft's top marketing strategist unveils Redmond's campaign, which will focus on a phone that lets you get back to your life rather than taking it over.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
Microsoft's teaser ad for Windows Phone 7 features a bunch of people tapping away on their phones, oblivious to the surroundings. The minute-long TV spot is set to Donovan's 'Season of the Witch.' Screenshot by Ina Fried/CNET

Microsoft hopes to sell its new Windows Phone 7 as something that complements one's life, rather than looks to take it over.

In contrast to ad campaigns that focus on the cell phone and its powerful hardware and software, Microsoft's forthcoming advertising campaign focuses on how easy the new operating system makes it to get information at a glance and then return to what one is doing.

A teaser spot, which will air later this month, shows a sea of people all staring at their phones oblivious to other people or to their surroundings, which include a fallen bicycle and a car that has crashed into a pole.

"It's time for a phone to save us from our phones," reads the text at the end of the minute-long, dialogue-free spot which ends with the Windows Phone logo and the November 8 U.S. launch date.

Microsoft is showing the first crop of Windows Phone 7 devices at an event in New York today, but the phones themselves won't be available until later in the month in Europe and next month in the United States.

Another TV ad shows people engrossed in their phone in different ways, including a man walking down the wedding aisle while tapping away on his phone and a father playing catch with his son while texting. One of the most, um, colorful moments occurs when a man in the bathroom drops his phone in a urinal, then picks it up and continues about his activity.

"Really?" inquires the guy next to him.

In addition to the more generic teaser ads, there are follow-up spots that focus more on the phone's features, such as so-called Live Tiles on the home screen that offer information at a glance as well as the ability to keep tabs on people via Facebook and Twitter. Advertising in the United Kingdom will start later this week, while the U.S. teaser spot is slated to begin showing in late October.

"Our job here is to be a disruptor," said David Webster, Microsoft's chief marketing strategist. "Our job out of the gate is to cause some friction, cause some people to re-examine the category."

Although he said that Windows Phone will have plenty of games, video apps, and other features, Webster said that is not what the company wants to tout to the masses.

"We're highlighting the moments where that's not OK and the wrong phone design can encourage you to be more antisocial than you should," he said.

Webster wouldn't say how much the company plans to spend on the campaign, but did note it will be larger than any previous phone effort.

The ads were done by Crispin Porter and Bogusky, the same firm that has done Microsoft's "I'm a PC" spots, as well as the "Windows 7 was my idea" campaign.

"They really understand the Windows brand and its voice," Webster said. "There's some DNA behind it that's common."

Although Windows Phone is the main brand in the ads, the Microsoft brand will also be featured. While that may sound obvious, until this year, not all Microsoft products included the company's overall brand. However, that is changing with this holiday's push for Xbox, Windows, and Windows Phone.

Microsoft is hoping to build on what Webster said is an already valuable brand that lends credibility, even in areas like search where Microsoft is a challenger.

Of course, Microsoft also spent a fortune marketing its Kin, a phone that was pulled after two months on the market. While costly from a financial perspective, Webster doesn't think that the failure of the Kin will hurt the launch of Windows Phone 7.

"I don't think that will weigh too heavily on anyone," Webster said. "I think the Kin work was very specifically targeted. It was actually aimed at a fairly distinct audience."