“Billy Mays, here, for Microsoft’s amazing new entertainment device,” will be the new audio refrain soon blasting out of TVs far and wide.
Microsoft has hired the omnipresent pitchmen Billy Mays to help convince a skeptical public to buy its new handheld media device, the Zune HD. The company is hoping Mays will be able to do for Zune HD what he has done for other products, such as OxiClean.
The move represents what some analysts deem to be a natural progression for Microsoft’s advertising campaigns. “They are following one of the basic tenants of advertising and promotion theory,” says Professor Jim Work of the Wharton School of Business. “Microsoft first started with a series of Jerry Seinfeld commercials that were about as easy for the general public to understand as a Jackson Pollock painting or a voicemail message from Bob Dylan. When that failed, Microsoft decided to put itself in the customer’s shoes with people trying to find low-cost computers that, coincidentally, were unavailable in Apple form. Finally, the company has decided to throw caution to the wind with the incessant yelling of Billy Mays.”
Whether or not this strategy will work remains unclear. Few doubt Mays’ ability to sell new products to the public. However, the products he usually pitches fill voids in the marketplace, with Mays playing the role of educator, helping people solve problems with which they can readily identify. In this case, however, the Microsoft Zune HD is attempting to go up against an established competitor in the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.
Apple doesn’t seem to be very worried about the upcoming Zune. Previous versions have failed to put much of a dent in any of the iPod line. Sales seem to have been restricted to Bill Gates’ children (who the billionaire refuses to allow own any Apple devices) and those still hoping that HD DVD will beat out Blu-ray in the format wars.
Also, with Apple holding, and vowing to vigorously defend, the patents on multi-touch techniques for portable devices, it is unclear how Microsoft plans to make the Zune HD more user-friendly than the iPod Touch. All these complications ensure that Mays has his work cut out for him with this product, but it would be foolish to count him out just yet. The full specifications for the Zune HD haven’t been released. If it turns out the unit is able to help vacuum up red wine spills, Mays might just have a shot.
[• This story, marked with a • is weekend entertainment content only and should not to be considered factual ]