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"Really?" Microsoft ads poke fun at obsessive smartphone users

by Howard Wolinsky

Last week, Microsoft (MSFT) launched its Windows Phone 7 assault on iPhone, BlackBerry and Android with a $1 billion ad campaign suggesting that its smartphones are smarter than its rivals and will enable users to focus more on their lives than their addictive screens and apps.

Eleftheria Parpis in Adweek said Microsoft‘s campaign “pokes fun at the obsessive use of rival cellphones. In a broader sense, the work positions the new device as the antidote to time-sucking technology, allowing users to concentrate less attention and energy on their phones and more on living their lives.”

One ad shows people around the world unable to disconnect from their phones, from sitting on the beach to taking a shower.

"Really?" an irritated customer asks her masseuse as the latter uses her elbows to administer a massage because her hands are busy operating a phone.

Another ad, “Season of the Witch”, shows a street full of smartphone users gazing at their phones.

Joshua Greenman in the New York Daily News takes the ads as deep social commentary: “It's not just an ad campaign. It's a warning for all to heed. The new TV commercial for Windows Phone 7 offers vivid vignettes of dozens of people hopelessly absorbed in their smartphones.

“A man texts at the urinal (he drops his device by the drain). A father stares at a screen while throwing a baseball with his son (the ball hits him in the head). A surgeon checks stock prices while in the operating room (we are spared the aftermath).”

Greenman said the anti-smartphone message captures the way many smartphone users live. A user of both BlackBerry and iPhone, he said “This has gone too far. I check my device -- now my devices -- during meetings. I'm on them while walking down the street, sometimes double-fisted. I'm checking something or other when on the telephone with my grandmother, when on the subway, when (yes, I admit it) in the bathroom.”

So how will a Windows Phone 7 be any better?

HT Lounge, which presents the two ads at its website, said Microsoft claims its WP7 phones have a better user interface, enabling users to stay focused on their lives.

Microsoft said its phones ‘save us from our phones.’ “Both ads outline the value of the Windows Phone 7 home screen, with its tiles providing a visual representation of important information people want to see. It shows a visual badge of unchecked phone calls, appointments, status updates and other features needed when digging into an application.”

The ad campaign’s tagline is “Be Here Now.” Ad writers borrowed that from Ram Dass, former Harvard professor Richard Alpert-turned-spiritual guru, whose 1971 seminal work was “Be Here Now,” influenced a generation. Gurus such as Ram Dass suggest that we live in the ‘now moment.’

Will Microsoft’s tagline raise consciousness, or just irritate a new generation staring at their touch screens? Will WP7 users really gaze less at their phones than their lives or their navels?

HT Lounge said the ad campaign is risky for Microsoft. “A campaign focused on avoiding the use of phones may gather views, but could also generate criticisms from those users who appreciate the appeal of applications on other platforms.”