Will tech companies ever learn?

Oh Microsoft, you are spoiling us! The Sugababes as the new faces of Windows 7? Who are you trying to reach? Eight-year-old girls? Because I’m not an advertising expert or anything, but last time I checked, they weren’t exactly the biggest consumers of computer operating systems.

This is nearly as good as the Della campaign, when Dell decided that they only way they could get women to relate to technology was to dazzle us with recipes and calorie counting tips.

A breathless Microsoft tells us, “They [the Sugababes] joined us to showcase just how simple Windows 7 is and how it helps them manage their busy showbiz lives.”

Finally! Something to help me manage my busy showbiz life! Microsoft, you have me so figured out.

Fair enough, I’d guess that lots of female consumers (and male, for that matter) want an operating system that’s intuitive and easy to use, and the point of this campaign does seem to be to make it clear that Windows 7 is exactly that.

But why we are hearing this from a girl band whose main audience must be pre-teen is a bit baffling. It’s a perfect example of how tech companies feel the need to make something glossy and pretty before women will even glance at it. If I want something pretty, I’ll buy a bloody necklace. Everyone likes nice-looking technology (see the universal appeal of Apple) but you do not need to make tech “glamourous” to make women want to buy it. In fact, it puts a lot of them off.

Incidentally, I’m not sure why but my colleague got a bottle of gin from Microsoft today. If you’re listening, Microsoft, I’m going to need one of those before I can look at this again.

I saw the Bitchbuzz post on this earlier after Belinda Parmar, an advertising consultant who set up the Lady Geek consultancy, mentioned it on Twitter. Her thoughts on the ad campaign: 

“The Sugababes and Windows 7 – do me a favour. Not only is this the most ridiculous partnership I have ever heard of, but I have never ever seen a Sugababe with a laptop. This is just another example of the tech industry thinking the way to attract women is to dumb down and glitz up your products. Windows 7 needs to speak for itself.

“Women are intelligent enough to understand the benefits of Window 7 without needing a ‘babe’ to dress it up. Whoever advised Microsoft on this needs to be brought to task.”

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I have to say, as a guy, I am highly confused by this post. Most of the actual research seems to suggest that there has been a decline in the number of women in the technology sector due to pay not keeping pace with men, sexism in the workplace, not enough other women there already, things like that.

The research I've read generally says that to alleviate this there needs to be more activity done to engage with young girls at an early age to suggest to them that technology is NOT just for the boys.

So hiring the SugarBabes, who do appeal to this age group a) addresses a market rarely addressed by tech companies (obviously that's to Microsoft's benefit in marketing terms in this specific instance) and b) there may be a wider knock-on effect of encouraging more young women to enter into the tech industry.

I ask: is this not a "good thing"?

A lot of the time when this debate comes up I see women bloggers saying there should be more done with girls in schools to encourage them to get into tech.

Then I see a post like this attacking a tech company for aiming at young girls.

Please help me understand, I'm just a simple guy.

By far the best way for Microsoft to sell Windows 7 is to give it away free to everyone (and I mean everyone) who's currently stuck on a borked copy of Vista.

Oh, and give us an easy upgrade path - like via Microsoft Update, rather than the "uninstall then re-install option" - the ONLY option for UK/EU users.

Seriously, why would I spend good money, loose a day reformatting my hard drive, another couple of weeks re-installing programs - just to FIND OUT if Windows 7 is any better than Vista?

My laptop runs as slow as a dog on acid. That is it's sometimes fast but in the wrong direction. It's allover the place.

If it happens that 7 is any better, then I'll be telling my mates "hey, you know I was telling you how BORKED Windows Vista is - well 7 is loads better."

So yes, Microsoft. HEAR ME NOW! You have easy access to totally free word-of-mouth advertising by simply fixing the problems YOU CAUSED with Vista.

The general public is saturated with adverts. Word-of-mouth advertising is an marketeers dream. And Microsoft are shunning it by refusing to UNBORK what the BORKED UP in the first place (as a santised quote from Tony Soprano).

It depends who Microsoft is trying to target.

If this was a campaign aimed at young girls, with the ambition of attracting more into technology, then I'd a) applaud them for doing something like that and b) rate the use of the Sugababes as probably pretty effective.

If, as I presumed, Microsoft is trying to sell products to adult consumers, then it misses the mark. The Sugababes' main audience, as with most girl bands, is younger children.

And if Microsoft are deliberately aiming for the female consumer market (again I presumed they are) then it's a little patronising. It would be like trying to sell grown men something using JLS. Or Boyzone. I think it's a bit odd.

The real question is why Microsoft is marketing to pre-teens with background music lyrics "I'm feeling SEXY RIGHT NOW" or something of the sort. Shameful.