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Microsoft TV ads to target old PCs with anti-'good enough' angle

Campaign to push consumers off Windows XP, blunt surges by smartphones and tablets, says analyst

Microsoft on Monday night will debut a new television advertising campaign hoping to convince consumers to upgrade their older PCs to ones running Windows 7.

The ads will run on ABC, CBS and NBC starting in the 8 p.m. time slot.

As first reported by Todd Bishop of GeekWire , the ads will be the latest incarnation of the "I'm a PC" campaign that ran more than two years ago, but will target consumers already using Microsoft Windows.

"The ads feature real couples who thought their old (4+ years) PC was 'good enough' being surprised to find a Personal PC store built out in their homes," Microsoft said in a statement.

"Good enough" is a phrase often used by analysts to describe a developer's difficulty getting customers to upgrade to the newest software when older versions are sufficient for their needs.

"Our goal is to showcase the wide world of Windows PCs to show people they can get a highly customized and productive PC that may surprise them with its stylish look and feel," Microsoft said.

That may be a tough job, said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash. research firm that covers only Microsoft. And not simply because of the "good enough" problem.

"At the end of the day, this is not even about 'good enough' anymore," said Cherry. "There's a whole bunch of other things happening."

From Cherry's perspective, Microsoft not only competes against itself -- Windows XP or Vista versus Windows 7, for instance -- but also against other technologies that consumers may value higher than a new PC.

"I have X number of dollars I can spend on things, and once the PC was one of those things," said Cherry. "But now people are saying, 'I like these new smartphones , I like these new tablets.' Microsoft is trying to get the PC back on that wish list."

Windows revenues from consumers are tightly tied to new PC purchases, which have dramatically slowed. In the first quarter of 2011, Windows revenues fell by 4% ; Microsoft attributed the slide to a drop in global PC shipments, which according to market research firms IDC and Gartner, dropped by 3.2% and 1.1% , respectively.

Microsoft's smartphone business remains weak, and it won't release a tablet-specific version of Windows until 2012, leaving it without major plays in both categories.

Cherry sees other problems with Microsoft's ad new campaign.

"There's a real disconnect for consumers who see these ads and then wander into a Staples or a Best Buy," argued Cherry. "Microsoft may run a commercial and the consumer gets all excited, but there's no guarantee that those machines will be available at retail. It's hard for Microsoft to get an ad campaign to get past that barrier."

Cherry contrasted Microsoft's problem with Apple's advantage. "Whenever Apple advertises, it's tied to its retail stores," Cherry said, referring to Apple's extensive chain of brick-and-mortar outlets, where all its products are on display.

Just weeks ago, said Cherry, he shopped for a new Windows notebook, and although he bought one, "I'm still not sure if it's the best one for me."

The new ad campaign that stresses upgrading from "good enough" to a new machine with Windows 7 is only the latest in a series of moves by the company to distance itself from Windows XP, the 10-year-old operating system that still accounts for a majority of all copies of Windows in use.

When Microsoft launched Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) in mid-March, a company executive defended the decision not to release the browser for Windows XP by saying that the aged OS was the "lowest common denominator."

Microsoft also pressed IT professionals to ditch XP with a Webcast last month titled "Is XP Good Enough? Really?" and with the release of a Windows 7 gadget that counts down to the expiration of all Windows XP support in April 2014.

The new television ads will run on ABC's Dancing with the Stars; on CBS' How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, Hawaii Five-0 and Late Show with David Letterman; and on NBC's Chuck and The Event.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.


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