Windows 7 launch helps Microsoft shed Vista baggage

After three years of dealing with Vista's unpopularity, Microsoft launched its new operating system, Windows 7.

After three years of dealing with Vista's unpopularity, Microsoft launched its new operating system, Windows 7. As a way to mend Windows' reputation, Microsoft is marketing Windows 7 as an operating system with the consumer in mind. It builds on the “I'm a PC” campaign with the tagline “I'm a PC and Windows 7 was my idea.” It includes a print advertising, online efforts, and a PR campaign.

Bill Cox, senior director of PR for Microsoft, says the campaign surrounding the launch is intended to show consumers that Windows 7 is “the PC simplified.”

“What we mean by that is, we've listened to feedback from customers and partners,” Cox tells PRWeek. “The campaign is a light-hearted approach to showing how we've gotten feedback on the product.”

Most of that feedback has come from Windows 7 beta testing, which began in January. Kara Swisher, executive editor at All Things D, says taking this consumer-focused approach has worked so far. But because of the lingering bad feelings about Vista, Microsoft must be ready to quickly respond to complaints about Windows 7.

“They've at least admitted the failure of Vista,” Swisher said. “They've gotten good reviews for Windows 7, but if there are any problems they're going to have to very responsive. They denied problems with Vista for a long time.”

“Windows 7 had only one direction to go – up,” adds Peter Himler, founding/principal for Flatiron Communications.

The “Windows 7 is my idea” launched on October 22 with events in New York headlined with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, as well as events in Tokyo, Beijing, Dubai, Paris, London, and other markets. Waggener Edstrom helped with the PR components, while Crispin Porter & Bogusky worked on the advertising campaign.

Prior to the rollout on October 22, Microsoft started the drum-roll for Windows 7 by encouraging people to have “launch parties” in which selected participants received a free copy of Windows 7. Cox says the results for the launch parties have been “incredible” and Microsoft expects more than 10,000 parties worldwide with 800,000 people attending.

“As we moved closer to the launch date, it became very clear that there was an enthusiasm out there with our users,” Cox explains. “We wanted to start a program where people could share this enthusiasm.”

But launch party efforts were widely panned in the media, including Gizmodo and CNBC, for being contrived and unappealing. Swisher also did a spoof of Microsoft's video promoting the parties.

“It was artificial, and they didn't have enough buzz going to justify asking consumers to have a party,” says Himler. “You can't manufacture the kind of buzz they wanted.”

John Dvorak, a columnist for PC Magazine, says Microsoft is relying too heavily on consumer stories but not controlling its overall message.

“Microsoft throws messaging like this into the ethers and then the media starts interrupting it and then the blogosphere starts interrupting it and then the message gets out of hand,” he points out.

Yet Dvorak commends Microsoft for managing expectations for the product better than it did with Vista, which helped lead to good reviews for Windows 7. And despite the launch party stumbles, Himler suggests Microsoft is in a good position to leverage the positive reviews around Windows 7.

Swisher notes that the rising popularity of its search engine, Bing, as well as buzzworthy partnerships with Twitter, have also buoyed the Microsoft brand and paved the way for a smoother Windows 7 launch.

“Consumers are really leading the market and Microsoft can't really take them for granted anymore because they have to be more competitive,” she notes.

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