It's tricky to imagine the thought process that led to Microsoft's 'Windows 7 launch party' strategy. Has there ever been a more embarrassing idea? Whose brainwave was this?
Picture the scene; a big marketing meeting at a very large software company.
"OK Larry, what have we got?"
"Well Bob, the word from the top brass is they want the launch of Windows 7 to really engage people. They want it to have a grass-roots feel, you know, like Obama's campaign, and they want to see the launch be both national and, at the same time, intimate and personal, a real community experience that engages people in all walks of life."
"Wow Larry, that's a tall order. So, team, what are we feelin' here... ideas, people, ideas! [Long silence.] Yes, Ted?"
"Well Bob, I was just thinking: what if we encouraged people to have parties? You know, launch parties where they get together and explore how incredibly cool the system is. They have some food, maybe a few drinks, and, as a group, explore the magic of Windows 7."
[Stunned silence. Ted fidgets nervously.]
"Hmmm... you know what, Ted, that's brilliant!" [Ted is hoisted on to shoulders and paraded around the office. Weeks later, a marketing campaign is launched on an unsuspecting public.]
Sound unbelievable? If only I were making this up (well, the dialogue I obviously made up, but the launch party idea - that's real).
Microsoft is doing exactly this, through an outfit called House Party, a marketing firm that specialises in promoting house parties on behalf of clients. Microsoft's launch site can be found here but beware, the site is shockingly slow.
Until the House Party site stopped accepting applications, you could ask to become an "official party host". That pretty much meant, if the promo video on YouTube is to be believed, you were signing up for an excruciatingly lame evening with a random collection of annoyingly bright, shiny people who will be age, gender and racially diverse and who will have been brainwashed into a state consisting of equal parts bliss and barely suppressed excitement over Win 7.
This has to be one of the all-time greats of bad advertising - I defy you to watch it to the end without skipping anything. If you can, then you are a tougher man than I.
In exchange for undertaking one of these events, in the week following the official Microsoft launch on Oct. 22 the party host will get a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate Edition and be entered into a draw to win a new life, er, sorry, a new computer. I don't know how anyone could resist. Obviously the annoyingly chipper and pro-Windows hostess in the video couldn't. She's an actress, you say? Surely not!
Anyway, the host gets to choose one of four "party themes" and will receive a special "party pack", whatever that might be (I'm guessing a mixture of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and uppers wrapped in marketing documents).
Oh, I almost forgot, Microsoft employees are expected to host parties! I'm all for supporting your company but this seems over the top by any standard.
...but good results
Actually, if the site is to be believed, the whole campaign is really working. In the US alone, New York will be hosting 2,352 parties and Los Angeles 1,122.
Is this what we've come to? I can understand Superbowl parties because the thing they focus on is, well, exciting. But Win 7? That's like inviting people to come around and go goo-goo over the latest GE washing machine.
The whole concept is hokey, transparent, disingenuous and lame. To quote The Bleat blog: "If Microsoft had been put in charge of marketing sex, the human race would have ended long ago, because no one would be caught dead doing something that uncool."
Even so, it is deeply depressing to think people would actually choose to get involved in hyping Microsoft's wares more or less for free.
Now it's pretty obvious the campaign has worked at least on the PR side: myself and about a thousand other journalists and bloggers are covering this angle, but the sheer scope of the campaign and its purported success does make me wonder if it is real.
Perhaps I'm just old and cynical, but this whole campaign defies belief and if the response is real then many more of us are madder and more uncool than I would ever have thought possible. Party on people. If you're real.