Microsoft knows what you say behind its back

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) knows that you think it isn’t cool. After years of smug Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) commercials pitting the staid, nerdy Windows PC against a hip Mac, it seemed Microsoft might never shake pocket-protector status. But the hipster became a juggernaut, and for the first time in ages Microsoft has found itself looking up at Cupertino’s dominant market position.

Worse, energetic young internet companies such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Facebook created niches Microsoft missed. Even its industry-standard Internet Explorer browser is about to lose the market-share crown to Google’s Chrome — if it hasn’t already, depending on which analytics company you ask. That’s a pretty embarrassing defeat for a browser that comes bundled with Windows, but Microsoft knows you don’t want to use IE. Haven’t you heard for years about how terrible it is?

But Microsoft also knows that everything old can be new again, even in the light-speed world of software. It’s taken a new tack in its new Internet Explorer promotional campaign, with plenty of ironic humour and tongue-in-cheek references that let you know it’s in on the joke, too. It might not be enough to reclaim the browser crown, but it’s a branding departure for Microsoft. Is it crazy enough to work? Maybe. Curious? Read on.

Hipster appeal

According to StatCounter, IE had a 65% market share three years ago, and that figure has shrunk to a comparatively abysmal 35% today. Chrome, by comparison, is at about 31% and has been steadily eating away at IE’s lead since its release, with Firefox’s market share holding relatively steady for the time frame.

Microsoft’s answer (besides the latest updates, which would need to wow users to justify its campaign) is a strategy that rather mercilessly lampoons the IE brand with a site called “The Browser You Love(d) to Hate“.

The IE promotional site has three tabs — “curious?”, “it’s good now” and “no, really” — but the centerpiece is clearly a video showing one nerd’s obsessive hatred of IE finally melting because the latest version is actually good. Reviews are mixed, with some advertising-and-branding sites expressing extreme dislike, while much of the blogiverse seems to have decided that the overall thrust is a good direction. I’m partial to the graphs, and there is a second and more straightforward video headlining the site.

There’s a fine line between self-deprecation and self-mockery, and this sort of angle would probably be ill-advised for Microsoft’s mobile push. For the browser wars, it might just work — but it’s going to take a bit more activism than a single website to persuade millions of Chrome converts to give IE another look.

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