Microsoft is once again betting that its customers can do a better job than anyone else of selling its software.
The company's $80 million "Make it Great" ad campaign for Office 2010, which kicks off today, is focused entirely on letting a small group of early users of the product tell their stories. Microsoft faces the not insignificant challenge to convince consumers that the product is worth shelling out cash for, as opposed to using free rivals, sticking with their old version or even using one of Microsoft's own free products.
Aaress Lawless, the editor of women's tennis magazine Onthebaseline.com, applied for the program on a whim, but didn't expect to be accepted. Although she had used the Windows version of Office in the past, Lawless had been using a combination of software including Office for Mac and various open source products on the PC.
In one print ad, Lawless is shown holding a tennis racket and sporting a huge grin.
"I want to make it great because I can't believe this is my job," reads the headline text. In smaller print, Lawless goes on to talk about how she has a job so good that if it were a person she'd marry it.
In an interview, Lawless spoke nearly as highly of the new Office, talking about how she spends all day in Outlook and has taken to organizing all her projects in the OneNote note-taking application.
"If its not in OneNote, I probably don't need to remember it," she said. "It is literally my virtual brain."
Also featured in the campaign is Melissa Hanson, who runs the nonprofit Sajai Foundation from her home in Minneapolis.
Hanson describes herself as a power user, but not one who is particularly into the technology itself.
"I don't have a big tech background so it's got to be easy to find," she said.
Both Hanson and her sons are featured in separate ad spots, but Hanson said that for her the best part has been getting to make her limited tech budget go further. Microsoft gave her a loaner laptop with the new Office on it, which allowed her to delay a PC purchase by a year.
"That means more dollars are going toward our mission." Hanson said.
Hanson said that Microsoft was also responsive to feedback, such as the need to be able to print Excel spreadsheets on a single page, even if the print is tiny. That feature was missing from the initial test versions, but now is there. The "print preview" function also improved, she said.
"Now I know I am not wasting paper," Hanson said. "I can make edits before I kill 10 trees."
The online, print, and outdoor ads puts a heavy focus on parents and small business owners--two key consumer segments for Office.
In focusing more on people than features, the company is using much the same formula it did with its "Windows 7 is my idea" campaign. It's a tack we can expect to see more of, chief marketing strategist David Webster said in a March interview.
"We're taking an approach that says it's far more compelling to have users speak on your own behalf, particularly in the consumer space," said Microsoft senior vice president Chris Capossela.