Microsoft's newest ad pits an up-and-coming gadget against an established foe. There's a white background, snarky "dialogue" and a comparison of two products, one doing things the other can't. If this doesn't sound very familiar, it should.
The company's latest spot, an ad for Windows 8 tablets, uses a Siri voice to hawk features the virtual assistant supposedly envies in her tablet-cousin. Placed side by side, the robotic monotone "Siri" says, "I'm sorry, I can only do one thing at a time," referring to the Windows 8 ability to have two apps open at once on a screen. She adds, "And I guess PowerPoint isn't one of those things," referring to the lack of Microsoft Office apps on iOS.
Setting aside the dubious claim that people are clamoring for PowerPoint on tablet, the ad is strange for a few reasons. By having Siri narrate, Microsoft decided to highlight Apple's voice-command assistant. While Siri may not be universally popular, the product outshines the Microsoft-made equivalent, which just transcribes speech instead of following orders. The ad compares prices, too: $699 for a high-end 64GB iPad vs. a $499 Asus VivoTab Smart with the same amount of memory. Don't worry that the Microsoft Surface RT -- Microsoft's homemade and highly-touted answer to the iPad -- retails at the exact same price as the high-end iPad when the keyboard touch cover is included.
Recently, Microsoft's ad department has been in attack mode. It took aim at Google with a recent "Scroogled" campaign, which tried to convince privacy-conscious consumers that Redmond does less data-collected than Mountain View. Microsoft is in the same position in which Apple found itself a decade ago when it ran its now-famous "Mac vs. PC" commercials: Macs then were simply an also-ran to PCs running Windows, and the company was trying to grab market share with an edgy new ad.
Today, though Windows' share of the market is still bigger than Apple's, its share of PC profits is not.
Microsoft realizes it must acknowledge certain things in its ads. In this case, that the iPad is the dominant tablet. But there are better ways for Microsoft to tap into its potentially resurfacing coolness. Remember the Microsoft ad last November that gently mocked Internet Explorer haters? That was the right way for the company to reestablish that it might just be somewhat stylish again. Copycat ads, most likely, aren't going to help much.