CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/MICROSOFT - Will Microsoft's push of XP alter focus from brand to product?

In the current economic climate, a client with a $200

million marketing spend burning a hole in its trousers seems like some

sort of mythical creature: a phoenix rising from the ashes of the

economic downturn.



But this $200 million is exactly the amount of corporate weight

that Microsoft has thrown behind last Thursday's global launch of XP,

the replacement for Windows ME.



But wait a minute, it doesn't stop there. Microsoft has promised it will

spend $1 billion on marketing over the next few months - we're

getting toward the realms of the obscene here.



Or are we? At first glance a global budget of $200 million for XP

seems impressive, but in the UK it's a decidedly more believable £10 million, half for above the line and half for below. The

above-the-line spend breaks down to £2.5 million on TV and £1.25 million each on print and radio.



In no way is this sort of money going to make the same impact as the

Windows 95 "Start me up" campaign that never seemed to leave our

screens.



Rhian Mackenzie, the McCann-Erickson group account director on

Microsoft, says: "It's enough to do a good job." And she may be right

when you consider that, according to IT observers, approximately 80 per

cent of its sales for the operating system are pre-installed sales, that

is, it's already in the computer when you buy it.



Surely this means the campaign must be more of a branding exercise and a

showing off by the client of what its new baby can do - driving

increased sales may not be the priority.



"The campaign tries to demonstrate the things that you can do with the

software - it's a very aspirational campaign," Oliver Roll, the director

of marketing for Microsoft UK, says.



"The big difference from the 'Start me up' Windows 95 campaign is that

at that time our goal was about demonstrating how Microsoft was making

computing easier. People were still a little scared of PCs," Roll

admits.



"Now we are talking about the experiences. We are bringing the PC into

the living room."



Mackenzie adds: "The whole point was to create a rallying call. Everyone

knows that PC sales are declining. We need something to excite

people."



But the major problem that Microsoft will have to address with the new

ads is its public image.



Rupert Collins-White, the news editor on PC Advisor, says: "Microsoft is

one of the only companies still showing growth in a depressed market,

but it has a lot to achieve with XP. After years of having its dirty

washing done in public in the US courts, constant accusations of an

inability to protect privacy, the growth of the Linux anti-Microsoft

brigade and an EC that still wants to pin it against the wall over

anti-trust, the opinion formers are no longer so enamoured of

Microsoft."



But Roll says that doesn't matter to the campaign. "This is about

something completely different. The whole XP marketing campaign is about

inspiring people about what they can do." In other words, it's about the

product rather than the brand.



Microsoft was on top of the world when it launched Windows 95 - it

thought it had a cracking product and it didn't need much hype for

everyone to know its name.



And with a 90 per cent share in the market, maybe it still doesn't.