Clever: Windows 7 will be the final play in Microsoft’s current ad campaign

There’s been much discussion about Microsoft’s current ads pitching PC’s as being cheaper than Macs. As with many, I’m not a huge fan of the campaign (see here and here) but there’s one mistake many, including myself have made: the lack of the contextual big picture.

The current ads aren’t a standalone campaign, they’re actually the third major release in Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s $300 million contract with Microsoft. When they signed the deal, a Microsoft statement said “Crispin was chosen based on their strategic approach, the strength of their creative ideas and the passionate and diverse team of people at the agency.”

The emphasis is mine, but it’s key to the bigger picture. Alone some of the Microsoft ads have been nothing short of terrible, while others brilliant (the I’m a PC campaign for example was splendid.)

Lets look at the picture so far:

Stage 1: Bill Gates/ Jerry Sienfield and related ads
Bizarre, pointless, but at the time Microsoft said it was about getting people thinking about the brand.

Stage 2: Combat Mac advertising with I’m a PC
The normalized PC user vs the Mac ad version of one.

Stage 3: combat on price and hardware
As noted, this ignores Windows but positions PC’s as a cheaper and more featured alternative to Macs. Even takes on the aesthetics of the Mac.

Stage 4: (not yet launched): will be Windows 7, which is due out either late 2009, or 2010 (mixed reports on the release date.)

Crispin knows it can’t sell Vista, but Windows 7 is a fresh start for Microsoft. After getting people talking about Microsoft, normalizing PC use, then making statements on value and hardware, the trump card is a new OS that (in theory) doesn’t have a baggage Vista does, and (in pitch) brings PCs up to par with Mac’s on the desktop.

We know the campaign isn’t over: this is a multi-year $300 million campaign. There has to be a trump card at the end, something that ends the overall campaign. The missing link in the campaign has to be the operating system, because it’s the main thing left out so far. Microsoft of course will never admit to giving up on Vista, but Windows 7 is already being hyped as putting Microsoft back in the game.

I may not like (actually, I don’t like) the inidvidual parts of the campaign, but the overall strategy is actually rather clever. There are risks of course, like cheapening the brand with the current ads, but they’re betting that stage 4 negates that. We’ll find out later this year or early next year.