WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO TODAY? CAMPAIGN
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Xbox, a video-game unit of the Microsoft Corp., was introduced in 2001, and within two years it had established its brand as a high-end video-game manufacturer. After passing Nintendo Company, Ltd., in 2003 to become the second-largest video-game manufacturer in the world, Xbox set its sights on outstripping PlayStation 2, the number one video-game manufacturer. Sony Corp. was the developer of PlayStation 2, which consisted of both the game-processing hardware referred to as the "console" and video-game software. In order to overtake PlayStation 2's 54 percent share of a $10.4 billion industry, Xbox released a campaign titled "It's Good to Play Together" that touted the "sociability" benefits of its new online gaming service, Xbox Live.
The estimated $100 million campaign, developed by advertising agency McCann-Erickson, involved print, television, radio, and Internet elements. Print ads first appeared on August 4, 2003, and television spots began airing on August 25. Initially the campaign advertised Xbox's "NFL Fever 2004," a football video game that allowed gamers to play anyone in the world by connecting their television to the Xbox console, which was connected to Xbox Live's Internet service. The first print ads appeared in gaming and lifestyle publications and featured the tagline "Nothing unites a group of strangers like pure contempt for the guy in first place." The campaign continued with a series of commercials featuring rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs, promotional events on Viacom Inc.'s Music Television, and high-stakes competitions that took place on Xbox Live.
Not only did the campaign win a Gold EFFIE Award in the Entertainment category, but it helped Xbox to increase its market share 10 percent by 2005. The campaign continued to emphasize that with Xbox Live gamers could challenge remote friends and family who subscribed to the service. "Xbox games have always had the ability to draw people in due to their looks, but increasingly it's the social elements our gamers crave, and we're giving in to them," Peter Moore, the corporate vice president for retail sales and marketing at Xbox, stated in Media and Marketing Europe.
When Xbox entered the video-game market in November 2001, gamers held misconceptions, based on the Microsoft association, about the performance of its processing hardware, commonly referred to as the console. "They (jokingly) wanted to know how long Xbox took to boot and where the control-alt-delete keys were," Robbie Bach, a chief officer for Xbox, told the Financial Times. Xbox hired McCann-Erickson to develop a campaign that positioned Xbox as a serious, powerful gaming brand. In 2002, with a marketing launch budget of $500 million—more than the remaining industry's combined budget—Xbox released its "Life Is Short, Play More" campaign, which increased the brand's market share from 0 percent to 27 percent by 2003. One television spot, which was eventually banned in the United Kingdom, began with a woman giving birth. Like a cannonball, her baby soared from the birth canal and burst through the hospital's window. Flying through the air, the newborn began aging rapidly while circling the globe at what appeared to be supersonic speeds. At the commercial's end the newborn had aged into an old man and crashed into a grave. The spot ended with the tagline "Life is short, play more."
By 2003 Xbox had shifted its efforts from increasing brand credibility to heralding the online feature, Xbox Live, as the next generation of video game. Xbox gamers could now play with or against anyone who also subscribed to the service. "Before, our theme was more focused on power and the unique capabilities of the Xbox technology," Don Hall, director of Xbox brand strategy and Xbox.com, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "As we go to reach a broader audience, we're shifting our focus more to the consumer benefits, the experiences of playing Xbox with your friends and family." Xbox created games that were not only for multiple players but also compatible with Xbox Live. "We're actually consciously evolving our brand on the idea of gaming as a social experience—people playing together whether it's through Live, or sitting next to each other on the couch. And it also turns out to be a much broader concept," Bach explained to the Financial Times.
"It's Good to Play Together" targeted males between the ages of 14 and 34 who enjoyed social gaming. Not only did print ads and television spots exhibit Xbox's state-of-the-art graphics, but to also attract the social gamer, they explained features such as music sharing, photo storage, buddy lists, and live chats. Print ads ran in magazines with strong male readerships, such as FHM, Playboy, and Maxim. The campaign also advertised Xbox's family-oriented products, such as Music Mixer, software that turned the Xbox console and the gamer's television into a karaoke machine. One microphone was included in every Music Mixer package.
After realizing that a high percentage of consumers who subscribed to movie channels were also likely to purchase video games, Xbox and the movie-oriented Showtime Networks partnered for a 2005 marketing tie-in. Every new Showtime subscriber received free Xbox games and an Xbox Live starter kit. By 2005 more than half of U.S. households reportedly had some type of video-game console. Analysts noted that many of the consumers who had already bought PlayStation 2 were also purchasing Xbox.
First released in November 2002, Xbox Live was a service created for the video-game console Xbox and allowed gamers to challenge each other from remote locations over the Internet. When Xbox released "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3," new records were set for Xbox Live. In a single 24-hour period gamers spent more than 250,000 hours playing the game. That was equivalent to one person playing the game incessantly for 30 years.
In 2003 Sony's PlayStation 2 dominated more than 50 percent of the video-game market. With a yearly advertising budget of $250 million, Sony released television spots for PlayStation and promotional events with the tagline "Fun, anyone?" Original television commercials featured sample footage from PlayStation 2 games that were edited to resemble movie trailers. Eventually Sony's ad agency switched to using animated commercials to differentiate the brand from Xbox, which had begun airing similar commercials. PlayStation 2 also sponsored weekend activities, titled "PlayStation Freedom," which included musical performances from bands such as Kasabian, Jamiroquai, and Babyshambles. In London Sony allowed 40,000 gamers to sample upcoming PlayStation 2 games at a four-day event called "PlayStation Experience." After the Xbox Live service grew increasingly popular, PlayStation 2 released its own online service and began focusing on gaming sociability.
While PlayStation 2 and Xbox targeted the 14- to 34-year-old market, the world's third-largest console manufacturer, Nintendo, released games for younger gamers. Many games created for Nintendo's console, GameCube, were priced lower than PlayStation 2 or Xbox games and delivered content more suitable for the 8- to 12-year-old demographic. Industry insider Alex Seropian told Xbox Nation, "Nintendo has such a different character than Microsoft or Sony. They seem to be much more of a gaming company—or even a toy company—than an electronics manufacturer or a giant software house."
With print debuting on August 4, 2003, and television spots appearing on August 26, "It's Good to Play Together" first advertised Xbox's "NFL Fever 2004" football game. Print ads featured the tagline "Nothing unites a group of strangers like pure contempt for the guy in first place." Multiple gamers in remote lactations could play the same football game. Later that year television, print, and radio advertisements announced the Xbox warfare game "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3." One 30-second commercial began with a man sitting in a darkened living room. Next, video-game scenes played while someone said, "I thought we were ready. The chopper came in hard and safe. The target was in our sights." When a woman turned on a light, the man from the spot's beginning was revealed to be playing Xbox Live and crying before his television. A final voice-over stated, "Rainbow Six 3: their lives in your hands. It's good to play together." The TV commercial was written and art-directed by Gary Marjoram and Rob Brown. It was directed by Christophe Williams of the production company Igloo Films. Print ads appeared in gaming magazines and in men's lifestyle magazines such as FHM and Maxim.
The rapper and music producer Sean "Puffy" Combs, also known as "P. Diddy," was paid more than $50 million to endorse Xbox games such as "NFL Fever 2004" and "Grabbed by the Ghoulies." Spots featured footage from the games, separated by scenes of gamers playing. All spots included voice-overs from Combs, such as "It's good to make the entire league beg for mercy together." Some industry experts considered it a bold move to use a music celebrity to endorse sports games. Referring to Xbox's contract with Combs, Eli Friedman, the group marketing and communications manager at Xbox, told Advertising Age, "We look at his voice as the right voice for Xbox." All spots ended with the campaign's tagline, "It's good to play together."
Xbox orchestrated other nationwide promotional events. More than 50 "A" icons were hidden inside the game "Advent Rising." Gamers who found the hidden icons were eligible for hundreds of prizes, including one grand prize of $1 million. In 2005 Electronics Boutique Holdings Corp., a video-game retailer, allowed more than 25 of its kiosks in retail locations to feature games with Xbox Live. New subscribers to the movie channel Showtime were also given free Xbox games and Xbox Live starter kits. Other promotional events were spear-headed by MTV, which released a half-hour program titled "MTV Presents: The Next Generation Xbox Revealed." During the program the actor Elijah Wood from the Lord of the Rings trilogy explored new Xbox games on-camera while rock band the Killers performed. In its monthly technology feature Playboy magazine displayed the Xbox RX2 Media Chair, designed with built-in surround-sound speakers.
Despite some analysts criticizing McCann-Erickson for a lackluster campaign with an uninspired title, the campaign earned a Gold EFFIE Award in the Entertainment category in 2005. More importantly, however, the campaign helped Xbox's market share continually grow between September 2003 and January 2005. By 2005 Xbox had increased its market share by 11 points, more than any other console manufacturer. Cameron Ferroni, general manager of Xbox Live, explained in a 2004 issue of Xbox Nation, "With 20-plus million consoles sold and more than 1.5 million Xbox Live members targeted by the end of this fiscal year, Xbox is clearly resonating on a cultural level."
Besides the brand's success with console sales, three of its video games, "Halo 2," "Need for Speed: Underground 2," and "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2," were among the 10 best-selling video games of 2004. Microsoft was confident that the campaign had positioned Xbox at the forefront of online gaming, which analysts believed was the future of video gaming.
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Microsoft Corporation, the world's largest software company, signaled a new direction for its massive branding campaign "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" in the fall of 1998, when it launched the first of three series of ads designed to burnish the company's image. Although Microsoft had used been using "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" since 1994, the company wanted to ensure that it was perceived as approachable and inspirational. Some of Microsoft's previous advertising efforts had been criticized for being cold. More significantly, an ongoing antitrust investigation by the United States Justice Department had the potential to brand Microsoft as a high-tech thug—a bloodthirsty corporation using its tremendous size to squeeze its competitors out of existence. With these new ad packages, which all explored Microsoft's role in building and strengthening various types of communities, the company sought to demonstrate its kinder and gentler side. "We want to make sure that we're communicating our values, and the benefits of our products to consumers," a Microsoft spokesperson told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The three sets of ads all depicted how Microsoft technology enhanced the lives, work, dreams, and futures of everyday Americans. The first series of six television spots debuted on September 6, 1998, and focused on Microsoft employees talking candidly about their work at the company. These ads portrayed the gigantic corporation as a community committed to making software for both the present and the future. The initial commercial, called "Inside Microsoft Anthem," was a montage of diverse Microsoft employees, while the five subsequent ads featured one employee in each spot. The commercials connected to Microsoft's "Where Do Want to Go Today?" slogan by having each of the spotlighted Microsoft workers answer that question. "Why is our company's tag line a question?" queried the voice-over. "Well you can't make a software better till you know what people want to do with it."
In December 1998 Microsoft next rolled out a sequence of five ads set in remote Lusk, Wyoming, where—as one spot noted—"cows outnumber people 100 to 1." This speck of a town had thoroughly wired itself for future high-speed Internet connections in a fashion disproportionate to its diminutive size. Microsoft's ads included such vignettes as that of 13-year-old Dan Hanson using the Internet to research a school paper on dung beetles, and Margy Brown relying on Microsoft software to manage her beeswax hand-cream business efficiently. Again, Microsoft presented itself not as the predatory purveyor of bug-laden software but as a force for fostering communities—for helping outposts like dusty Lusk survive and indeed thrive.
A third group of community-oriented ads, which used the Maxwell Middle School in Tucson, Arizona, as a backdrop, was inaugurated in March 1999. Two commercials related how devoted teachers at the school used Microsoft products to draw their students more fully into the lessons, while a third portrayed a Mexican American boy who learned about Mexican history on the Internet. "Technology is giving Jose a way to study his heroes, and maybe someday he can be one himself," intoned the voice-over provided by actor Jeff Daniels. "We are creating tools that help people do amazing things," Eric Koivisto, Microsoft's director of advertising, told the March 8, 1999, Advertising Age, as he explained the impetus behind these new "Community" facets of the broader "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" branding campaign.
Microsoft ran these "Community" ads in heavy rotation on network and cable television. Each contained the "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" tag line. Like most of its branding efforts at the time, these spots were conceived by Wieden+Kennedy, the Portland-based firm that had inaugurated Microsoft's questioning slogan. Although Microsoft professed complete satisfaction with this latest branding installment, in 1999 the company severed its ties with Wieden+Kennedy and instead hired McCann-Erickson (which owned Anderson & Lembke, which, in conjunction with Wieden+Kennedy, had created past ads for Microsoft). The company expressed its desire to better integrate its product and branding campaigns.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft came to control the global software market. In 1998 the company's annual sales had reached $14.5 billion, and 9 out of 10 personal computers ran on its Windows operating system. (Operating systems are the software that controls all the computer's functions.) Microsoft's founder, Bill Gates, had achieved iconic status, both as one of the world's richest men and as a maverick techie who had eschewed conventional business models and flourished. Beginning in 1994, Microsoft used "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" as a way to "make consumers comfortable with the personal computer and its plethora of applications," according to the Wall Street Journal on November 11, 1994. The first commercial of the campaign, which stylishly melded an array of scenes, proposed that Microsoft's products "make you powerful," as the voice-over put it. The Wall Street Journal noted in its June 27, 1994, edition, "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" was designed to "reinforce the Microsoft brand," while specific product ads (which appeared on television, in mainstream and computer trade magazines, in newspapers, and on the Internet) touted individual technologies. For example, Microsoft's much anticipated release of a new version of Windows—Windows 95—was supported by a high-profile Wieden+Kennedy campaign that used the Rolling Stones's song "Start Me Up." After an initial blizzard of advertising, the branding campaign began to impress itself into consumers' minds. Microsoft then decided to scale back the intensity of the effort and devoted more of its 1997 marketing budget to its Internet and print ads than to its flashier television spots.
The Justice Department's ongoing investigation of Microsoft's business practices, and particularly its decision to file suit against the software titan in 1998, made it imperative for Microsoft to refocus attention on man-aging its brand image. The antitrust trial, which began in November 1998, had the potential to damage Microsoft's reputation and therefore hurt its sales. The suit centered around Microsoft's policy of "bundling" its Internet browser, called Internet Explorer, into its Windows 95 operating system. The government alleged that Microsoft improperly required computer makers to ship Internet Explorer on personal computers loaded with Windows 95. Compaq Computer testified that Microsoft had threatened to cancel its Windows 95 license if Compaq sold computers with the operating system, but not the Internet browser. Since Microsoft had a virtual stranglehold on the operating systems market, critics claimed that the company's policies regarding Internet Explorer were intended to eradicate rival Internet browsers and effectively give Microsoft a monopoly in that sector. "This isn't about the browser. It's about trying to monopolize electronic commerce," said Ken Wasch, president of the Software Publisher Association. Although the filing of the suit had no discernable impact on consumers' attitudes toward the company—surveys taken at the time the company launched its "Community" ads indicated that consumers perceived neither Microsoft nor Bill Gates differently than before the lawsuit—Microsoft wanted to ensure that "regardless of what happen[ed] in the courts of law, the company [would] not be hurt in the court of public opinion," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer observed.
With its "Community" ads, Microsoft attempted to reach a broad consumer audience. While computers and software had been pitched almost solely to technology-savvy users in the early 1990s, the market for personal computers was expanding every year. By 1994 one-third of all American households owned a PC. "Software buyers have evolved from a small community of technical decision makers to everyone," Microsoft's director of corporate marketing told the Wall Street Journal on November 11, 1994. "We want to encourage people to become more involved with the technology."
By casting its net so widely, Microsoft had to devise advertising that could connect with consumers of all sorts across the demographic divides. To appeal to as wide a group as possible, Microsoft presented computer users of different races, ethnicities, and lifestyles. The Microsoft employees showcased in the first installment of the "Community" ads were a friendly collection of Asian Americans, African Americans, men, and women. The Lusk, Wyoming, spots portrayed a small farming town where traditional values and hard work were still the norm. The Maxwell Middle School commercials featured a Mexican American boy connecting with his heritage. The occupations of "Community" characters ranged from an agricultural worker to a student to corporate employees to small-business owners. The campaign allowed viewers to relate to different vignettes that portrayed their realities and ideals (and, of course, the role software might play in their own lives). As the March 8, 1998, Advertising Age noted, the Microsoft users profiled in "Community" were "entirely believable people."
Although Microsoft faced no real threats to its dominant position atop the software industry, several competitors each challenged provinces of Microsoft's empire. In the realm of web browsers (the software that enables a PC user to access the Internet easily), Microsoft's closest competitor was the Netscape Communications Corp. Netscape, and its Navigator browser, had been the leading browser company prior to Microsoft's foray into the field with Internet Explorer. But damaged by Microsoft's practice of bundling its Internet Explorer with Windows 95, Netscape's market share quickly dropped. The company had long relied on word-of-mouth to promote its browsers, but in 1997 it hired Salt Lake City-based ad agency Euro RSCG DW Partners to do some targeted ads. In 1998 Netscape decided it needed a higher-profile effort and teamed up with Kirschenbaum Bond & Partners to launch its first major consumer campaign. "We need to get people where they are, and to do that, we need to use a broad mix of media," Netscape's marketing director, Judy Logan, told Advertising Age on June 1, 1998. In its bid to survive Microsoft's advances in the web browser market, Netscape opted to start giving away its browser for free and to generate revenue from web-based advertising rather than product sales. With the print component of its new campaign, which consisted of eight separate pieces running in business and computer magazines, Netscape particularly wanted to reach business users.
NOT SO WIRED
Perhaps the ultimate irony of the Lusk, Wyoming, spots was that the town's vaunted high-speed fiber-optic and coaxial cable networks remained unnetworked. Instead, the lines ended 100 feet from town, unconnected to any other source. A funding shortage and the election of a less technology-friendly mayor had caused the project to be suspended. Many of Lusk's residents hooked up to the Internet anyway, although through slower phone lines. But Microsoft's ads were not lying about Lusk. The commercials were carefully worded to express that the town wired itself "for the future of the Internet," omitting the fact that it was not presently wired. Nevertheless, after the ads ran, Lusk was bombarded with telephone calls and E-mails from urban dwellers longing to move to a small town and still stay connected.
Apple Computer, Inc. and International Business Machines Inc. (IBM) provided the most visible competition in terms of rival operating systems. Apple's Mac OS operating platform, although far behind Windows in its number of users, had a committed core of adherents. In 1997 Apple broke an image campaign called "Think Different," which was designed to reinforce Apple's reputation as a creative alternative to the scores of PC clones. This print and television campaign, which ran through 1999 (in conjunction with product ads), used striking black-and-white photos of revolutionary thinkers, leaders, and artists, to demonstrate that Apple was no mere computer company. "Think Different" proposed that Apple created the tools that enabled geniuses and rebels to work. IBM's OS/2 Warp operating system also received ad support in IBM's massive "Solutions for a Small Planet" branding campaign, conceived by Ogilvy & Mather.
In order to reach the broad consumer base it desired, Microsoft chose television as the medium to carry the message of "Community." Unlike on-line or print spots, television commercials could connect with an array of consumers with a wide range of computing abilities. The ads aired on mainstream cable and network programs that garnered large audiences. For example, the Maxwell Middle School spots debuted during the NCAA basketball championships.
Microsoft hoped to use the "Community" commercials to polish its corporate image. As with the entire "Where Do You Want to Go Today" campaign, "Community" was less intent on driving particular product sales and more set on "evok[ing] positive feelings from the target audience about [Microsoft] and [making consumers] consider being a user [of the company's products]," an industry analyst told the September 4, 1995, Advertising Age. Part of this process of building its brand involved countering the charges of arrogance and greed that had trailed after Microsoft even before the antitrust trial began. "Community" did just that, and presented a different kind of Microsoft than the one headlining the nation's newspapers. Microsoft's first objective was to distance itself from its sometimes brash and unrepentant founder, Gates, whose billionaire status made him a natural focal point. "Community" ads depicted Microsoft not as the empire of one man, but as a collection of talented employees. The six employee-centered spots emphasized that there was "more to Microsoft than its omnipresent chairman," concluded the September 7, 1998, Advertising Age.
"Community" subtly refuted the picture being painted of Microsoft by government lawyers in the courtroom in other ways as well. Perhaps because Microsoft had so often been portrayed as the 800-pound gorilla of the industry, the company chose to highlight plucky small-business users in its new round of ads. One Lusk, Wyoming, spot narrates the tale of home entrepreneur Margy Brown and her fledgling beeswax hand-cream business. While its critics often characterized Microsoft as a monopolist striving to enforce a sterile technical uniformity in pursuit of a Windows-only world, "Community" presented Microsoft in a radically different light. Far from imposing a corporate monoculture on the world, the ads insinuated that Microsoft made alter-native lifestyles possible. Luskites lived outside the mainstream in their small town, fortified by Microsoft technology. Moreover, "Community" suggested that Microsoft's primary concern was people (those who made its software and those who used it), rather than profit. Each commercial reiterated that Microsoft was a tool, limited and defined by the goals and efforts of the people who used it. One Lusk spot proclaimed "Technology is a tool. Software is a tool. These are the dreams it's made for."
The "Community" ads succeeded in shoring up Microsoft's reputation among consumers. The company told Advertising Age on June 21, 1999, that the commercials were "probably some of the strongest" it had run. Microsoft added that the campaign scored "near all-time highs" in terms of shaping consumer perceptions of brand attributes and that Wieden+Kennedy had delivered "a stronger and more concise Microsoft voice … to the outside world." In May 1999 Microsoft released a new series of "Community" ads, which focused more directly on small-business needs by showcasing the Great Harvest Bread Company, a national chain of franchised bakeries based in Dillon, Montana.
Wieden+Kennedy did not reap similar benefits from the campaign, however. Microsoft fired the ad agency (first from the Windows account and eventually from the branding campaign as well) and by June 1999 had consolidated its marketing with McCann-Erickson. The company hoped its new agency would create a "mix of brand, product, and solutions messages," as well as craft a "common template and tone for product and brand work," a Microsoft executive told the June 21, 1999, Advertising Age.
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