Microsoft Launches “Mac-Friendly” Ad Campaign

In a new advertising campaign beginning this week, Microsoft Corp. is attempting the prickly effort of selling its new Office software to Apple Macintosh users — easily some of the company’s most rabid critics.

The print campaign, created by the San Francisco office of McCann-Erickson, aims to position the new Macintosh OS X version of Microsoft Office — that is, Office v. X — as having been designed especially for them. In large part, that meant downplaying the brand association that figures prominently in Microsoft advertising, in favor of more specific talk about why the product should appeal to Macintosh users, said Scott Erickson, a product manager in Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit.

“We set out to differentiate this Office v. X campaign from the [earlier] Office 2001 campaign by moving away from brand image advertising and toward strongly messaged advertising that speaks to the product and what it does,” Erickson said.

The ads — full-color, two-page spread — show the Office suite’s icons in a sort of “mad scientist’s lab” setting, sending the message that the product had been “reengineered and redesigned for Mac OS X.”

“We planned to express this by creating visually appealing yet curious images that we hope will stop people in their tracks to learn more,” Erickson added.

Microsoft has had a long, strange relationship with Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, and its small but extremely loyal user following. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant had been one of the first software developers to write software for Apple’s earliest models, but the relationship quickly grew contentious as Microsoft’s MS-DOS, and later, Windows operating systems, clashed with Apple’s own System software for dominance in the marketplace.

Those rivalries gave rise to Apple’s ill-fated 1988 “Look and Feel” lawsuit against Microsoft, and years of market share decline thereafter. But with the return of former Apple chief executive Steve Jobs and a subsequent rollout of popular products like the PowerPC-based iMac, the firm’s users are again one of Microsoft’s major niche consumer groups. (Microsoft also invested $150 million in Apple in a far-reaching 1997 cross-licensing and technology deal, that, among other things, agreed to provide Office on the Mac platform for several more years.)

Now, with a dedicated Macintosh software unit, Microsoft is betting big on the fact that Mac users, which skew toward creative and graphics professionals, often eagerly seek out and snap up products tailored to them — like most niche groups.

“The audience is early-adopter Mac enthusiasts first and for most, who are proud to be Mac users,” Erickson said. “They are independent, iconoclastic and achievement-oriented in everything they do. They have become passionate about technologies that make greater productivity and creativity more accessible by hiding the learning and tedium otherwise required. In targeting our ad campaign, we strove to send our message to these Mac enthusiasts.”

In creating the campaign, McCann tapped photographer Stan Musilek to produce “surreal images of product icons living and being manipulated in scientific labs,” Erickson added. “Fortunately with the help of [Musilek] and his ingenious staff, these amazing scenes were recreated in a photo studio allowing us full license to define every detail in the shot. Our hope is that these ads will demonstrate to Mac early adopters that purchasing/upgrading Office will bring their Mac to life and give them everything the need to run their businesses/lives on Mac OS X.”

The campaign will run in Macintosh trade publications and continuing through June, 2002. Spending was not disclosed.

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