Daniel Eran Dilger
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Microsoft’s “Windows vs Walls” Ad Tries to Think Different, Fails

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Daniel Eran Dilger
Part of Microsoft’s new campaign to spend $300 million in damage control for the Windows brand is the new “Windows vs. Walls” ad, which seeks to lift the message of Apple’s “Think Different” ads from ten years ago and apply the same sentiment to its own product.

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The difference is that rather than being a cleverly worded and thought provoking tribute to exceptional individuals, Microsoft’s text about the “little stuff, the big stuff, the crazy stuff” is painfully clumsy corporate babble that ends on a sappy line about how satisfying conformity is: “Today, more than one billion people worldwide have Windows®. Which is just another way of saying we have each other.”


The primary print ad features the image a man who has cut a Windows logo through the side of his house using a reciprocating saw (that obviously couldn’t have actually cut through the wall). Is the message here that Windows will drive you nuts?

Wouldn’t cutting a doorway have been more liberating? Or perhaps cutting out a regular square opening that would fit a standard size window, rather than that goofy shape that will require a proprietary window design that looks terrible and couldn’t possibly open correctly?

An Epic Struggle.

Microsoft’s depiction of an “epic struggle” to get “below, around, and through walls” also calls attention to its real struggles: the epic struggle to get around the its consent decree, the US Department of Justice monopoly trial, and EU demands that it stop forcing PC makers to bundle its Windows Media Player. The fruitlessly epic struggle against QuickTime, against the iPod, against iTunes, and against the iPhone. A struggle against open standards, open protocols, open source, and open markets.

An epic struggle to shove Windows Vista down the throats of consumers and the enterprise as its PC partners scramble to line up their own Windows alternatives as HP, or find ways to use Linux instead as Dell and Acer are doing.

Microsoft says its approach is “dedicated to engineering the absence of anything that might stand in the way.” Holy balls, who is writing this stuff? Is Microsoft aiming for an award in truth in advertising?

Think Different vs Conform Under Us

Compare the “we’ll help you change the world” message of Apple’s Think Different ad with the “we are amazing, play along” text Microsoft came up with:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

“Windows vs Walls. This epic struggle explains why we make what we make and do what we do. The thing that gets us out of bed every day is the prospect of creating pathways above, below, around and through walls. To start a dialogue between hundreds of devices, billions of people and a world of ideas. To lift up the smallest of us. And catapult the most audacious of us. But, most importantly, to connect all of us to the four corners of our own digital lives and to each other. To go on doing the little stuff, the big stuff, the crazy stuff and that ridiculously necessary stuff. On our own or together. This is more than software we’re talking about. It’s an approach to life. An approach dedicated to engineering the absence of anything that might stand in the way…of life. Today, more than one billion people worldwide have Windows®. Which is just another way of saying we have each other.”

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  • hmciv

    Without walls, you couldn’t have a window… just to guys holding a piece of glass. Windows needs walls. And if you tore down all the walls, you’d probably break the Windows. Then what would you do? You’d cut your feet on the way out, that’s what!

  • siegling

    Well, Microsoft’s ad copy definitely reminds me more of Scoble and “conversations”, so, it seems appropriate. Good post!

  • awilensky

    They (Microsoft) are so lost. They have lost that essential thread of brand identity. They stumble with their other channels, too. Their on-line “live” brand is confusing. There is no message, no compelling sell point, other than some percentage of the market being legacy locked. Microsoft could release Win7 with the tag line, “The worst Windows yet!”, and still sell 57 billion worth.

  • Tom-MBILF

    Like hmciv said, in a world without walls, who needs windows? I actually sent that line to Bill Gates’ e-mail listed on the ad, and got a response (technically): http://mbilf.com/2008/09/bill-gates-im-a-pc-autoresponder/

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    I have to admit I like the imagery of the ad, but the copy definitely falls short. It’s a poorly-done rip of the Think Different campaign.

    The problem is that Microsoft fundamentally has no vision. The company branches out into many, many directions, and most of their initiatives fail, or at least fall short of their original promise or intent.

    They’re not going to fix or improve their image with a bunch of ads. Apple turned their image around by producing hit products – the advertising followed later. Microsoft is trying to do the opposite.

  • http://thesmallwave.com treestman

    “I have to admit I like the imagery of the ad”

    I think the imagery contains a symbolic meaning Microsoft is using to buy time until Windows 7.

    Regarding the ad copy itself, Paul Thurrott calls is Microsoft’s “manifesto”, and thinks it’s more human. Oh brother. I reviewed the “manifesto” here .

  • sparkplug

    What else would you expect from a company that came up with the expression of ‘squirting’ a friend or stranger in the ‘social’?

  • celeduc

    I think Microsoft is rather on-target with this campaign, mostly because everybody’s talking about it. Something Microsoft has done suddenly matters, and that’s what they set out to do. Just as the Republican party motivates people to vote against their economic self-interest by demonizing “elites”, Microsoft is attempting to rally their users into defending their “way of life” — no matter how backward and uncomfortable it might be.

    Don’t forget that this ad campaign is speaking to the great unwashed, not to Mac users or technologists. I think the ad campaign is working.

  • qka

    Has anyone else noticed that the blade on the Sawzall in that guy’s hand is nowhere near long enough to cut through the wall in front of him? Also, the plaster board he cut out looks like it is at least 3 inches thick.


    Sorry, but to me, imagery that is not credible helps to make the ad not credible – regardless of the product being advertised.

  • qka

    If you haven’t seen what marketing guru Seth Godin has said about the futility of MS’s ad campaign, you owe it to yourself to see it here:

  • monkyhead

    “a proprietary window design that looks terrible and couldn’t possibly open correctly”

    Oh, that’s funny.

  • Tardis

    I know advertising is supposed to be “artistic” and making software is “engineering”, and as an architect I am a little bit of both. But I cannot see how the message is supposed to work practically.

    Let’s see, Windows Liberator guy with a short power tool breaks through a wall made of adobe mud on unreinforced concrete and cuts out the flag-shaped opening. You would expect the saw-wielder to then push the resulting cut-out outwards, to land on the ground outside.

    Instead, it must have spun around in the air and landed on the floor inside the room about two metres away, with the inside face facing upwards and no damage to the floor from the impact.

    In the construction industry you cannot have windows without walls ( a window is by definition an opening in a wall) but you can have a wall made entirely of glass. This is called “curtain walling”.

    By the way, having achieved this liberation, what is the Windows guy going to do next? Stick a sheet of plastic over the hole?

    The only time I have seen people cutting holes in walls like this, they were setting up a machine gun emplacement.

  • awilensky

    Are you people really picking apart the message – windows, walls, blades, odd shapes? C’mon….

    Microsoft brand manager to ad agency – “we have nothing new or innovative to say about the brand, the latest OS, or our positioning against competition – we need to get creative, so go hog wild.”

    It’s easy to create campaigns to advertise for Harley Davidson, Apple, Vespa, etc. It is somewhat easy to create campaigns for a consumer electronics marque like Sony, despite their regular stumbles, due to their legacy of goodwill extending for years, decades.

    It is very hard to create campaigns that stick for Microsoft, Creative, Archos, Nokia, Samsung. They have variable utility products that do not perpetuate a brand identity over a long design cycle – they just have a parade of some good and mediocre products.

    Like HD says, “If you have to ask, you won’t understand”.

  • jkundert

    You know, it’s also amusing that the “window” shows this nice pastoral world that the guy obviously can’t get to, since the window’s too small and too high up for him to get out of. I get a weird sense of queasy claustrophobia when I look at the ad…. which is, I guess, how I feel when I use Windows, so, uh… good job there, MS!


  • Mirage

    When I first saw the ad, I thought the guy in it was nuts, considering he’s in a room he wants out of and the choice he makes is to cut through the wall. Maybe it’s the only choice he has, either because he’s been placed there by others, or he blundered into it himself. Also, looking at the sparse and/or oddly deliberate decor in the room (What’s with the weird flooring?) and his peculiar stance, he just seems like he’s supposed to stay in the room for his own protection, or for the safety of others. Whatever this weirdo’s situation is, he certainly does not represent myself as a consumer.

    I also noticed what Tardis noticed: “You would expect the saw-wielder to then push the resulting cut-out outwards, to land on the ground outside.” But this other observation by Tardis was just too funny: “The only time I have seen people cutting holes in walls like this, they were setting up a machine gun emplacement.” Ho Ho Ho! That would be a great idea to play with in Photoshop. Maybe place some ammo and guns around in the room, making him look like a far-out member of some hick militia. This all makes me look forward to the next series of ads for all the wrong reasons.

    The Seinfeld/Gates ads were also entertaining and pointless as ads. So they were funny/peculiar. So they got people talking. So do most public humiliations and tragedies. Microsoft needed to release their onslaught of ads in tandem with a new product or service. They are up at the plate swinging, and the pitcher hasn’t even let go of the ball yet. And considering how long Microsoft takes to release a new anything, they’ll be called out long before they ever truly connect.

  • Mirage

    Is the message of this ad saying that Windows logo blocks our view, and that we need to cut it out of our world view so we can finally see what we’ve been missing? Does Microsoft want us to think that their product needs to be violently removed, as though it were a malignant tumor?

    Perhaps we are to think that by looking through Windows, we can see a whole other world, one without walls. But that’s not really a window. At least not a modern one. So Windows is just a really primitive way to look at the outside world. In fact, it’s just a hole. So Windows is just a hole – a void in our personal comfort and security – so that the ad is indeed about nothing, as their ad campaign has been about thus far. And we should just use Windows to watch the world go by, just like that guy does.

    But what if we choose to drink too much of Microsoft’s maple syrup (as opposed to kool-aid) and believe that what we see out there is better than where we are in here, and then we climb through and leave Windows behind to enjoy a world without the kinds of boundaries that having Windows requires? So, the ad is about leaving Windows neglected on the floor in the dust while escaping the kinds of boundaries that Microsoft has informed us that we have.

    Here’s to the crazy ones. The ones who stare out at opportunities instead of taking them. Here’s to the rebels. The ones who need doors and make windows. Here’s to the troublemakers. The ones who make daring and complicated decisions that serve no purpose. The misfits. The ones who have access to large power tools and can’t cut straight. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because we’re crazy, too. Microsoft. Enjoy the crazy world we’ve built around your life.

  • Mirage

    This image shows more of the room from the ad.

    This image shows what the guy in the ad really found.

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  • mvcoile

    Is it just me, or does that landscape look like the default windows desktop image?

  • OldGeek

    Actually the ad captures MS design philosophy:

    1. Design a house (DOS OS) missing some essentials like windows (internet access)
    2. When they discover people want to see out (get on the internet) they hack out a hole in the wall (Windows OS).
    3. Of course in the process they leave an internal mess and expose the house to break ins.
    4. The next step will be to issue a pice of plastic to cover the hole (service pack) which helps some but doesn’t solve the break in problem because standard windows don’t fit this hole.


  • gus2000

    This picture needs a caption contest.

    “He’s escaping! Quick, throw him an X-Box!”


    “Finally. I tool I can use.”

  • arnozigoto

    @Tardis, Mirage
    great posts! While photoshopping the ad, I would probably stick a “Windows” wallpaper all over the interior…
    Seems amazing that the only vision that Microsoft has of freedom is that of a pastoral landscape (remember the WinXP default desktop background?). Impressive… Seems also like the guy ate the hardwood floor (it doesn’t look like a carpet, does it?).