Microsoft’s Surface Ads: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Microsoft has introduced three new ads for its Surface Pro 3 tablets called “Power,” “Head to Head,” and “Crowded.” You can view them HERE.

The Good

The ads are well done. Clever, funny, short and to the point.

I’ve seen some griping that the ads are entirely negative:

      “I don’t know why they would compare themselves to someone else, instead of saying just why people should be buying yours,” said Joe Balsarotti, president of St. Peters, Mo.-based Microsoft partner Software To Go. “By doing that, it’s admitting that Apple is the standard. Way back when I took marketing classes, that would have been a big no-no.” ~ via CRN

I disagree. Negative ads work. Further, I see these ads as differentiating and defining Microsoft’s products. That’s a good thing.

      (O)ne Apple partner told CRN the ad campaign is “smart.”

      “It positions the surface as a hybrid touch-laptop device, which I think is very smart,” said Michael Oh, CEO of Boston-based Apple partner Tech Superpowers. “The advertising is more of a positioning move. A brand awareness tool. It would be obvious to compare [the Surface Pro 3] to the iPad, but the MacBook air is smarter to go after, because the Surface is a bridge device to get people over to the Windows 8 side of things.” ~ via CRN

I like that Microsoft is defining its product and I think the ads do a good job of explaining the advantages of a 2-in-1 product. However, as we’ll see below, I don’t think 2-in-1s are where Microsoft wants to be.

Finally, these ads are SO much more tasteful than many of the older Microsoft ads.

The only problem with Microsoft is that they have no taste. ~ Steve Jobs


All the money in the world can’t buy you taste. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)

Many of Microsoft past ads were awkward, puerile and embarrassing. Compared to those, these ads are like a breath of fresh air. I attribute the change to Satya Nadella. He strikes me as a class act. It gives me hope that future Microsoft advertising will be a cut above their previous efforts.

The Bad

Criticizing another’s garden doesn’t keep the weeds out of your own.

Question: Why does Microsoft continue to rely upon Speeds and Feeds?

Answer: I don’t think they can help themselves.

People don`t ask for facts in making up their minds.They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts. ~ Leavitt

Question: Is pen input as attractive to customers as Microsoft thinks it is?

Answer: I doubt it.

      “This is my favorite thing. I can write with a pen.” ~ Narrator

That’s your favorite thing about the Surface? Seriously?

New Surface ads pushing pen input are how you know that, unfortunately, Gates is still running the tablet show at Microsoft. ~ Tom Reestman (@treestman)

The iPhone has been around for seven years. People have gotten very used to the fact that — when it comes to tablet computers (including smartphones) — the finger is mightier than the pen. Pen input is great for niche markets but Microsoft doesn’t want its products to be niche.

Question: Is “full Adobe Photoshop” as attractive to customers as Microsoft thinks it is?

Answer: I doubt it.

“Full” Adobe Photoshop is available on the MacBook Air. And the absence of “full” Adobe Photoshop didn’t stop the tablet from becoming the fastest adopted product in history. So what, exactly, is Microsoft’s point?

Question: Can the Surface really go head-to-head with the MacBook Air?

Answer: No. Microsoft paired the new advertising with a promotion that offers $650 in store credit to customers who buy a Surface Pro 3 and trade in their MacBook Air. This is a tacit admission the Surface is simply not price competitive.

It’s incredibly tough to imagine anyone would leave a MacBook Air for a Surface Pro 3. More specifically, that they’d leave the ability to run OS X on hardware of that caliber for Windows 8 on anything. Especially because the MacBook Air can run OS X and Windows 8. ~ Rene Ritchie

Question: Why is the Surface going head-to-head with the MacBook Air?

In The Art of War, one of Sun Tzu’s most profound principles was “to avoid what is strong and strike what is weak.”

As water seeks the easiest path to the sea, so armies should avoid obstacles and seek avenues of least resistance. ~ Sun Tzu

Why then is Microsoft going after the MacBook Air? There are so many easier targets. Why doesn’t Microsoft target Dell, HP, Lenovo, and other PC vendors instead? As Rene Ritchie put it:

People who buy PC laptops and hybrids are already Windows-only customers. All the things Microsoft is actually showing off in their ads — great specs, capacitive touch, pen input, etc. are probably something Windows-only customers would be really interested in. ~ Rene Ritchie

So why is Microsoft picking on the MacBook Air instead of other PC vendors?

Answer: Because it has too.

Other PC vendors are Microsoft’s so-called OEM partners. Microsoft doesn’t want to (literally) advertise the fact that they’re competing directly against their own partners — but they still are.

Question: Why isn’t Microsoft competing in the tablet category?

Answer: There is no good answer.

      “(I)t’s not just a tablet it’s really a laptop” ~ Narrator

“JUST” a tablet, eh? Clearly Microsoft either still doesn’t get tablets or they’re in denial.

According to the Pew Research Center, tablets are now the fastest adopted tech ever:


In 2015, more tablets will ship than PCs.


And tablets have pushed Apple into first place in computer sales:

Q2 2014 PC vendor share: Apple (including iPads) 26%, Lenovo 22%, HP 20%, Dell 15%, Acer 9%. ~ Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)

Yet Microsoft has virtually NOTHING to offer in this area.

Question: Why is Microsoft targeting PCs — a diminishing market segment?

Answer: I don’t know.

Each Microsoft ad ends with the tagline:

      “The tablet that can replace your laptop.”

Clearly, Microsoft is positioning the Surface as a laptop alternative rather than an iPad alternative.

If being more PC-like is what tablets need to increase sales, then PC sales wouldn’t be declining in the first place. ~ Tom Reestman (@treestman)

PCs are still very important but 1) they are not a growth sector and 2) Microsoft already owns the PC sector. Microsoft’s number one problem is their Windows and Office cash cows are trapped on PCs. They should be trying to move OUT of PCs, not doubling down on winning the PC marketplace.


Steve Jobs favored the quote: “Skate where the puck is going to be.” With the Surface, Microsoft seeks to do the very opposite — to metaphorically skate backwards to a place where the puck will never be again.

Further, as tablets take over the low end of the PC market, only those who really need the full power of the PC will continue to use PCs. This means most PC buyers will be power users who will want MORE powerful computers, not hybrids. ((As PCs become the choice of power users, there WILL be a place for the 2-in-1. Road warriors will love it. However, Microsoft needs to appeal to a much broader section of the market than that.)) That is one of the reasons why the Mac has increased sales by 18% while overall PC sales decreased by 2%. ((Mac is up 18% in a PC market that is shrinking at 2% (according to IDC). ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco) 7/22/14))

And we haven’t given up on the Mac. … Because we believe as people walk away from the PC, it becomes clear that the Mac is what you want if you want a PC. ~ Tim Cook

Question: Why does Microsoft think that 2-in-1s are the future?

Answer: Because they have to. It’s the only way they can justify the use of Windows 8 on a tablet.

There is no evidence — NONE — to support the proposition that 2-in-1s are a mass market product.

Microsoft has lost $1.7 billion on the Surface…so far…which reminds me of a joke:

I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof. ~ Rodney Dangerfield

Apparently, Microsoft is like Rodney Dangerfield’s father. Losing $1.7 billion isn’t enough for them. They want more proof. So here it is.

Opportunity cost & damage to OEM relations far greater [than 1.7 billion]. ~ Ben Thompson (@monkbent)

Microsoft’s OEM partners have had so little success in selling 2-in-1s that many of them have abandoned the market altogether.

To know the road ahead, ask those coming back. ~ Chinese proverb

If you look at the Canalys chart comparing Notebook PCs, Worldwide, units by form-factor, Q1 2013 – Q2 2014, you’ll see 2-in-1s have both figuratively and literally flat-lined.

If you’re ridin’ ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there. ~Cowboy wisdom

Question: If 2-in-1s are so important, than why aren’t either Apple or Google making one?

The wise learn many things from their enemies. ~ Aristophanes

Answer: The most likely answer is Apple and Google know something Microsoft doesn’t. Which reminds me of another joke:

“Pat: Mike, I’m calling you from the freeway on my new cell phone.

Mike: Be careful, Pat. They just said on the radio that there’s a nut driving the wrong way on the freeway.

Pat: One nut? Hell, there are hundreds of them! ((Excerpt From: Thomas Cathcart. “Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar.” iBooks.

By their actions, both the marketplace and Microsoft’s competitors are trying to show Microsoft the way. But Microsoft is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the direction that the market has taken.

The Ugly

Question: What is the glaring omission in the Microsoft ads?

[pullquote]Nature abhors a vacuum; and a vacuum abhors cats; and cats abhor mice; and mice abhor tablets; and tablets abhor Windows 8[/pullquote]

Answer: Window 8.

It’s telling that “run Windows instead of OS X” wasn’t even suggested as a benefit in any of these three new ads. ~ Rene Ritchie

Telling indeed. A Surface 2-in-1 with a Windows 8 operating system is like a gold mine without any gold. The Surface and the mine may be in fabulous condition — but in the end, you’re only going to get the shaft.

A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good. ~ Startup Vitamins (@startupvitamins)

In “The Windows 8 Mistake“, Jan Dawson succinctly explains where Microsoft went wrong:

      Instead of taking a consumer-led approach and unifying two fundamentally similar products, smartphones and tablets, with a single OS, Microsoft tried to bridge the gap between two fundamentally dissimilar products, the desktop and tablet. And all of this was in the service of establishing the PC operating system licensing model and not the smartphone OS licensing model on tablets.

      – – – – –

      A PC model applied to tablets would allow (Microsoft) to continue charging high licensing fees for Windows, make Office applications easily available on the devices, and make them compatible with existing Windows applications from third parties. But it’s important to note that (the Windows 8 operating system) was a decision driven entirely by what was perceived to be best for Microsoft, not by what would be best for the actual users of the products.

[Emphasis added.]

The real distinction is between those who adapt their purposes to reality and those who seek to mold reality in the light of their purposes. ~ Henry Kissinger


Question: Should Microsoft be doing hardware?

I answer in the affirmative with an emphatic “No.” ~ Sir Boyle Roche

Microsoft’s Surface ads are good. However, the best ads in the world won’t help a bad strategy. The worst thing about the Surface ads is they show that Nadella has not gotten his priorities in order — he’s still rushing headlong down the wrong path.

[pullquote]Microsoft has forgotten the purpose for which the Surface was made[/pullquote]

PREMISE #1: Windows 8 was designed to make Windows relevant on tablets as well as desktops.

PREMISE #2: The Surface 2-in-1 was designed to assist the transition of Windows 8 from notebooks to tablets.

FACT: The current ad campaign targets the Surface at notebooks, not tablets.

QUESTION: So what purpose does the Surface serve?


By losing your goal, you have lost your way. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Satya Nadella said Microsoft will show ‘courage in the face of reality’. Now is the time to display some of that courage.

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. ~ Hermann Hesse

Ironically, Microsoft’s Surface ads fully demonstrate the futility of Microsoft’s Surface strategy. If the Surface ever had any purpose, the new ads make it abundantly clear that the Surface is no longer serving that purpose.

We are a software company at the end of the day. ~ Satya Nadella

It’s time for Microsoft to re-remember their purpose, to re-remember who they are, and to acknowledge that sometimes it’s more courageous to let go of what you’ve got than to hold on to what you’re not.

The Microsoft Surface Was Made For Surfaces…But That’s Not What Tablets Were Made For

The first Microsoft Surface Ad is out. It’s called “The Surface Movement” (although it probably should be called “Click”). In his article entitled: Marketing Surface and Windows 8, Ben Bajarin focuses on what the ad communicates to potential buyers. My focus is on what the ad communicates about Microsoft’s attitude toward tablets.


Even before the ad aired, industry observers had picked up a theme:

The message we seem to be getting from Microsoft with its Surface tablets is that you need a keyboard with your slate to take full advantage of Windows. ~ James Kendrick, ZDNet

Microsoft is really is focusing on the keyboard as what enables the Surface to work equally well for consumption and creation. ~ Mary Jo Foley, CNet

It’s all about the keyboard and it’s all about using the keyboard on a flat surface.


The Microsoft surface has five characteristics that distinguish it from the iPad:

— Windows 8 user interface;
— Windows desktop applications;
— Kickstand;
— Upturned rear-facing camera; and
— Attachable keyboard.

The last four of those five characteristics are most useful when employed on a flat surface…

…but that’s not what tablets were made for.


The tablet has two defining characteristics: It is touchable and totable.

The tablet was made for standing, and walking; for moving from room to room, and moving from door to door; for sitting back and leaning forward; for remote locations and touch occasions. The tablet was made to be touched and toted. The Surface was made for a surface.

The Microsoft Surface goes on sale on October 26th. We’ll soon see what really defines a tablet.