Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) impressed me yesterday.
No, it's not the official unveiling of its terribly late Windows Phone 7. It's going to be hard for Mr. Softy to make a difference in a game where Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) , and even Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) have already been playing for years.
Where Microsoft truly shined yesterday was with its ad to promote the otherwise doomed smartphone operating system.
If you haven't seen it, check it out.
Microsoft manages to artfully smear the absorbed nature of existing smartphone owners -- promising "a phone to save us from our phones."
The world's largest software company once eschewed jabs at the competition. Remember the original Zune ads? They were artsy, loaded with indie music and graceful imagery, but they were too nice. They never attacked market leader Apple, or took jabs at silver medalist SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK ) .
The days of paying The Rolling Stones a boatload of money to license "Start Me Up" for the Windows 95 launch or paying even more money to Jerry Seinfeld are over. Instead of singing its own praises, Microsoft learned the hard way that the best way to get ahead is to pull everybody else back.
It's a lesson that was painfully digested when Apple's "I'm a PC" ads skewered the Windows-using public. Microsoft came back swinging with last year's Bing launch, taking shots at the "search overload" caused by Google and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , establishing itself as more a "decision" engine than a "search" engine.
The new ads work, because smartphone owners know what it's like to be sucked into their devices. Maybe they're not missing their babies' first steps or bumping into strangers, but it's been a negative stigma since the term "CrackBerry" surfaced.
In the end, Microsoft will falter because it's too late -- and it's also unlikely to have a truly superior platform to deliver on the ad's promise of getting folks in and out in a snap. The consumed smartphone owners in the ad don't appear to be frustratingly navigating their phones. They're likely reading emails, enjoying web clips, or texting -- and these focus-altering activities aren't going to go away based on some new operating system. It's still a slick and memorable ad, but unfortunately it can't market its way out of its lousy starting position in this niche.
What do you think of Microsoft's ad or its chances to make Windows Phone 7 work? Share your tips in the comment box below.