Microsoft's Latest Anti-Chromebook Campaign Ad Is Great but Ineffective

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 7 2014 7:51 AM

Microsoft's Anti-Chromebook Campaign Is Funny but Won't Work

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Don't get scroogled. Or do.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

I love Pawn Stars so I enjoyed the brief Pawn Stars-themed ad that Microsoft ran during the NFL playoffs last weekend, and I like the long-form version of the spot even better. The basic idea: A woman can't pawn her Chromebook at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas because it's not a full-featured laptop:

As an ad, I think this is great. A lot of previous "Scroogled" bits have been very flat and wooden. What's more, this ad performs the social role of advertising perfectly—it conveys actual information. A Chromebook may look like a great bargain, but it actually isn't a full-featured laptop and the low price is in part a subsidy due to Google's hunger for user data.

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But if Microsoft actually expects this line of attack to save its franchise, it's dreaming. This is disruption in the useful sense of the word. A Chromebook can't do everything every user needs a laptop to do. But it can do everything many users need a laptop to do. On the one hand you have the people who have a full-featured desktop computer via their job sitting on their desk so they don't necessarily need a full-featured laptop at home. On the other hand you have the people who don't use computers for their work (they cut hair, they cook food, they fix plumbing) so they don't necessarily need a full-featured laptop for anything. These people might want a laptop to do Web browsing or they might try to rely exclusively on a smartphone. A Chromebook—which is very simple and easy to use and cheap enough to be competitive with the "just use the phone" option—is ideal.

The market for high-end computing tools is still large and will remain large for quite a while. But it isn't growing anymore and in an advanced market like the United States, it's shrinking.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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