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Microsoft's Bold Choice of Lumia Invisibility

I've seen that commercial for the Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone a few times now, and noticed something interesting about it: Nowhere in the ad are the names "Microsoft" or "Windows" mentioned. That's odd, of course, since the Lumia runs Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 OS.

This lack of identification differentiates it from the Top Dogs, Android and iPhone. Their commercials explicitly promote the OS, in Android's case, and Apple, in iPhone's case. Not so for the Lumia. It's a bold choice by both companies -- Nokia and Microsoft -- and says a lot about the smartphone market.

What it says to me is that "consumers don't think Microsoft can build cool phones, so we'll drop that name." Rather than fight this perception, Microsoft and Nokia have decided to live with it, fair or not. Smart move: with the built-in bias against Microsoft in the phone realm, it makes sense to conform to this belief and work around it, rather than try to alter it by saying "Hey, look, Microsoft is hip after all!" That would only reinforce the negative stereotype that Microsoft is a stodgy, boring company that makes great spreadsheets and desktop OSes, and should leave the cool stuff to others. It would look insecure and defensive, like Microsoft is trying too hard. That's not a winning strategy.

Nokia, on the other hand, has a reputation for building phones that folks want. Yeah, it hasn't happened yet in the smartphone arena, but there is a long, positive history there; many of those seeing the commercials have owned Nokia phones in the past. Because of that, the desire to try the new Nokia smartphone -- the one that looks so different from the iPhone and Android -- could be strong; stronger than telling a potential buyer "Look at the new Windows phone," and fighting the anti-Microsoft (at least when it comes to phones) feelings that may be stirred up.

So these commercials are highlighting the Lumia's strengths -- an appealing OS look and feel, and a company famous for selling phones -- while minimizing its weaknesses by eliminating any negative associations consumers might toward Microsoft and Windows when it comes to phones. In this case, Microsoft sees the value in fading into the background. Its brand recognition in the smartphone market may suffer, but I imagine the tradeoff will be well worth it if sales take off.

Will the stealth marketing campaign work? That's another question entirely. Certainly, both companies have to be nervous about Nokia's Q1 2012 losses. But we're right at the beginning of this phone push, and I'm much more bullish on Windows Phone's prospects than some others. With Microsoft's effective new efforts to promote its phones at the point of sale, and a nod to the reality that its name could be a drag on those sales (after all, you never say "The Microsoft Xbox", do you?), a little more time may be just what's needed.


Posted by Keith Ward on 05/07/2012 at 1:15 PM

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