Q&A: Microsoft's Windows marketing chief says Apple's 'scared'

Says brand is 'coming alive' with Windows 7, new 'laptop hunter' ads

Do you love Microsoft Corp.'s recent TV ads? (See them all on YouTube here.) Hate its "Apple Tax" marketing campaign? Then meet Brad Brooks. As Microsoft's corporate vice president for Windows consumer product marketing, Brooks approved both campaigns as part of his goal of burnishing Windows 7's image in advance of its October launch (and tarnishing Apple's).

Brooks' moves seem to be working. Reviews of Windows 7 are much more positive than Vista's were. And according to a survey this month by Advertising Age, Microsoft is now seen as providing more value than Apple, especially among 18 to 34-year-olds.

A Windows marketer since 2002, Brooks was promoted to his current position in February 2008. Brooks talked with Computerworld late last week. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

Brad Brooks
Brad Brooks, Microsoft corporate vice president for Windows consumer product marketing

The Seinfeld-Gates commercials last fall got a lot of people talking, but not necessarily in a good way. Your newer "Laptop hunter" ads seem to be a lot more effective. Timed with the recession, they've got a class-conscious attitude that you could almost say is Marxist in tone. (Laughs) This was always part of the plan that we created two years ago and have been executing in the past year. Microsoft was founded on a simple principle -- to democratize technology and put the power of software in everyone's hands. That is really what we have tapped back into with "I'm a PC" and taken forward with the "Rookies" and "laptop hunters" commercials.

You also seem to be tapping into this vein of consumer resentment over how Apple tries to dictate one aesthetic, one vision of cool. You're hitting the nail on the head. That's what we mean by customer choice. About a year ago, I got on stage at a Microsoft conference and made the controversial statement that we're no longer going to be defined by somebody else's snarky attitude, that we're going to be defined by who we are and what we stand for. That represents the billion people who use our products every day.

What do you think of Apple's response, the most recent "Get a Mac" ads? I think [the way] they're responding to our advertising is a reflection of what's happening out in the market (both IDC and the NPD Group show Mac sales dropping in the U.S. in recent months).

They're scared. The Ad Age survey shows how our brand is coming alive through three things: the ads, hitting our commitment to build a fantastic product with Windows 7, and around delivering the truth about the "Apple tax" and the value you get when you go with Windows.

But plenty of bloggers and journalists have done their own calculations and concluded that there is no "Apple Tax" and that when you buy a cheaper Windows PC, you make a big compromise. I don't think that's true, and I don't get their numbers. When you fundamentally look at the facts, at the cost of features like HDMI-out, or Blu-ray, or getting a 17-inch LCD screen, or memory or RAM ... there is a tax to pay. In my mind, there is no argument when you look at the basic facts and data around this.

Besides hitting Apple where it hurts on price, where else do you think your marketing has scored points? The message is coming across on simplicity. One of our best ads is the Rookies ad with Kylie, which shows how easy it is for a four-and-a-half-year-old girl to use Windows to do photo editing and sharing. Windows 7 is going to simplify everyday tasks, work the way you expect it to -- and want it to -- and make new things possible.

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