It's V-Day: Microsoft Goes For Wow Factor With Vista Launch

Microsoft is putting an estimated $500 million into its marketing campaign for the Vista operating system, which launches today--trying to generate consumer enthusiasm for what will soon become the standard operating system for more than 90% of the world's PCs.

The real motivation, says one analyst, is the long-term battle to win over consumers' brand loyalty for their digital lives.

While reviews of Vista have been positive, they also have noted that the improvements and features are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Microsoft would like customers to think the opposite about Vista and also get them excited about the operating system in the first place.

Operating systems are not an aspect of computers that typically wow consumers, if they register at all. That Microsoft is even clamoring for consumers to pay attention to Vista is noteworthy, said Michael Gartenberg, analyst with JupiterResearch.

"Consumers don't care about operating systems--they care about features and functions and what Vista can enable for them," Gartenberg said, speaking from a Vista launch event in New York. "The challenge is that it's the only product on the market that has to appeal to the CIOs of Fortune 500 companies and my mother all at the same time."

Microsoft is marketing Vista with a campaign that focuses on things that make you go "Wow." "The Wow starts now," which it developed with McCann Worldgroup, is the name for the online campaign to be accompanied by TV spots featuring moments in history that inspired a reaction of "Wow." These range from the fall of the Berlin Wall to ads featuring basketball star LeBron James.

PC manufacturers and retailers have been rallying interest in Vista separately, via a combination of in-store promotions and discount coupons for upgrades to Vista, largely to compensate for the delay in the product's release from its original Nov. 30 launch date.

"'Wow' is a great way to start off the campaign," Gartenberg said, "but Microsoft is going to have to get very concrete [about Vista] very quickly. Consumers care about digital pictures, safety when they're on the Internet, the user experience. They're not interested in how many lines of code are in a program. It's a challenge for Microsoft to get beyond the technology in terms of the lifestyle Vista enables."

Combined with the recent launch of its Zune digital music player, Microsoft is encroaching on Apple's territory. It is expanding its products' capabilities to cater more to the needs of creatives.

"The next couple of years are going to be all about whether Microsoft and Apple customers stay with their brands," Gartenberg said. "There's a battle on for the hearts and minds of customers and their digital lives. The launch of Vista is a big milestone in that battle."

Both Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer hit the road for personal appearances tied into the product launch.

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