by Shane O'Neill

Windows Phone 7 Ad: Don’t Save the World Microsoft, Save Yourself

Oct 12, 2010
Data Center

The Windows Phone 7 TV ad is funny, but its ambitious message of saving people from their phones sets Microsoft up for failure.

What to make of the Windows Phone 7 commercial. If you’re judging by production value, humor and having a clever visual idea, then it’s a big winner. If you’re looking for a coherent message from Microsoft, you will be disappointed.

Well, Microsoft does make a statement here, but it’s as thin as an iPad. Here it is: Windows Phones are going to save us all from smartphone distraction. The WP7 phone isn’t like those bloated iPhones, they are saying. It’s faster, with a UI that is simpler to use by bringing everything out to the home screen. One click and you can check that e-mail and go back to kissing your girlfriend or observing nature.

C’mon Microsoft. Really?

Do they really believe another smartphone, no matter how fast or easy to navigate, will change human behavior. It’s an ambitious statement by Microsoft, but it’s delusional. We’re walking into walls and tripping on sidewalk curbs because smartphone advances made us this way. They give us too much to be distracted by: e-mail, IMs, text messages, photos, video, music, weather updates, sports scores, Twitter tweets, all on our phones. It’s a nice idea, but a faster phone from Microsoft will not change our annoying phone habits.

That said, the commercial is really funny. If anything, it serves as a commentary on how our damn phones have hypnotized us. We’re a pratfall waiting to happen, and we all do it.

Set to the emotionally charged classical piece, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg (you’ll recognize it), the spot shows a series of distracted smartphone users out in the world. The phone brand names are concealed, but we all know who the competition is.

There is a jogger staring at her phone as she runs, a scuba diver gazing at his phone as a shark approaches, a surgeon looking at his phone during surgery, a bride walking down the aisle with eyes focused on her smartphone. The music occasionally stops and a phoneless observer shakes his or head and asks: “Really?”

As the music builds to a crescendo, the distracted masses start to crash into each other and those on the receiving end of the distraction get angry (my personal favorite: a kid throws a baseball at his father’s head to get his attention).

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Despite the ad’s hilarious sight gags, I’m not buying Microsoft’s new role as smartphone savior and its overreaching motto: “It’s time for a phone to save us from our phones.”

What Microsoft fails to see — or just ignores — is that people don’t want to be saved. We are glued to our iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys not because they are slow or faulty, but because we really, really like using them. People do not walk into trees because they are staring at their screens waiting for apps to load; they are in the apps devouring content. Yes, we are all a bit obsessive about it. But is that the phone’s fault?

Microsoft is implying that its tile-based UI that pulls out e-mails, text messages and photos in easy-to-read blocks will help you find content quicker and its powerful 1GHz Snapdragon chip will speed you up so you can get on with life. Again, it’s a nice idea, but faster and easier doesn’t necessarily equate to less distracting — not to a smartphone junkie who wants more content right now. Microsoft’s “less is more” approach with WP7 is the only card Redmond could play. Time will tell if the hungry smartphone masses want to go on a diet.

Microsoft has tried this “we’ve finally arrived and we are doing something different” ad approach before. It was the Bing strategy. Bing was labeled a “decision engine”, and Microsoft pushed the new way it organizes search results and pulls out useful information on a page. At the same time the ad campaign mocked Google’s “random list of links” search overload approach (without mentioning Google by name of course). Those ads were more effective than what we’ve seen of WP7 because they made a good case that Google hasn’t been doing search the right way.

Microsoft is trying to do the same thing with WP7 — but if the only fault they find with competing smartphones is that they are so addictive that they distract people, then it’s going to be a long road for Windows Phone 7.

Nonetheless, the ad does a few things very well: It makes people laugh and gets their attention that Windows Phone 7 has arrived. It also plants a seed that Windows Phones are quicker and easier to use.

That’s all good and I understand the need to start an ad campaign broadly, but the next commercial should ditch the messiah complex and get practical about what features make WP7 a better buy for consumers than the iPhone or Droid phones. If it doesn’t do that soon then Microsoft will need its own savior, and possibly divine intervention, to gain any ground in the smartphone space.

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at