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November 14, 2012 at 11:26 AM

Microsoft taking aggressive new approach to Windows Phone marketing with celebrity ads

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(Video from YouTube user WindowsPhone)

[This post has been updated with a link to the ads.]

Microsoft’s Windows Phone, though generally well reviewed, has barely made a dent in the smartphone market.

Now, with the launch of Windows Phone 8, the company is making an all-out effort to grab consumers’ attention and more market share.

Playing a huge role in that: a series of ads launching today featuring celebs including musician Gwen Stefani and actress Jessica Alba showing how they use their Windows Phone. (A preview glimpse of the campaign, featuring Stefani, is posted above. You can see the full ads here.)

The ads will launch online starting at about noon today, and then on TV in the U.S. tonight. Billboards, transit ads and social media campaigns are part of the effort as well. Future ads in the U.S. will feature comedian Andy Samberg and football quarterback Cam Newton.

The new Windows Phone campaign marks an aggressive new approach, in which Microsoft is now telling its own story, instead of relying mainly on its hardware or carrier partners to sell devices on which Microsoft operating systems run.

All of this is an effort to crack the biggest challenge facing Microsoft with its 2-year-old smartphone platform.

As Thom Gruhler, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Windows Phone marketing, puts it: “We have a product people really love but not enough people know about it.”

Because people don’t see their friends and people they know using Windows Phones, the marketing challenge is, in a sense to “give them permission to get a Windows Phone,” Gruhler said.

JessicaAlba.pngThat’s why seeing these celebrities — whom people already are familiar with and may have an emotional connection to — and seeing how they use their Windows Phone handsets, is a key part of the campaign.

“It’s creating this permission: ‘I know it’s OK. It’s acceptable. I can pull that out at a dinner party and say: Hey – Gwen Stefani has that phone. Check it out,'” Gruhler said.

The ads are intended to highlight a key message the Windows Phone team has been pushing: How the phone, with its live-tile Start screen that can display updated information in real time, puts front and center the people and things that are most important to the user.

“We use the stories of people they know to think: ‘Aha. That’s how Jessica (Alba) uses it. If that’s how she uses it, maybe that’s how (I can),'” Gruhler said.

The campaign — with various ads cycling on and off – is scheduled to be a year-long effort. Microsoft did not disclose a dollar amount for the campaign.

In addition, Microsoft is expanding a version of its “Smoked by Windows Phone” challenge — in which Microsoft employees challenge individuals with competing smartphones on speed in various tasks such as posting a photo to Facebook.

The challenge is now being called “Meet Your Match” and will be rolled out more broadly in malls nationwide, Gruhler said.

“We’re not thinking of this as just the launch of a product but the launch of a brand — a brand that’s very attached to the Windows brand and will be an important part” of the mobile world, Gruhler said.

Gruhler came to Microsoft about eight months ago from marketing communications company McCann Worldwide, where he led a team of agencies that created such memorable (or at least ear-wormy) campaigns as Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” campaign.

Gruhler says Microsoft’s more aggressive approach in pitching its own products doesn’t mean it’s not working with its partners as well.

Microsoft has worked with Windows Phone manufacturers Nokia, HTC and Samsung on the celebrity ads.

And carriers including AT&T and Verizon have or will have their own ads for Windows Phone devices as well (AT&T has Will Arnett pitching a Nokia Lumia 920 — see below). The operators have also worked with Microsoft in training their retail sales staff on the new devices, Gruhler said.

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(Video from YouTube user ShareATT)

(Photo of Jessica Alba at the October launch event for Windows Phone 8 by Janet I. Tu / The Seattle Times)



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