Microsoft: We Are Family ... Sort Of

People who buy Apple products tend to have a good experience and then seek out other Apple products, which are thankfully marketed everywhere, on TV, on buses, and by a pliant mainstream media that refuses to acknowledge the alternatives. But for Microsoft, this kind of marketing halo simply doesn't exist, and few consumers connect the company that makes Xbox and Kinect with the one that makes Windows and Windows Phone.

So the software giant is seeking to fix this problem during the 2011 Holiday season via a new series of ads dubbed "It's a Great Time to Be a Family." In the ads, various Microsoft products, including the aforementioned Xbox, Kinect, Windows, and Windows Phone, are used by a series of modern families out to have a bit of fun.

What's interesting about these ads is that the products in question don't actually offer much in the way of real integration. You can't connect a Windows Phone to an Xbox 360 console, for example: Nothing happens. And there's no way to access videos or video game data stored on your Xbox 360 from a Windows PC. Instead, what Microsoft is promoting is a "family" of products—essentially its small portfolio of consumer product lines—being used by, well, real families.

So in the first ad, we get the goofy dad dancing awkwardly and without self-awareness to a Kinect game, being video-recorded by a son on a Windows laptop, while the daughter takes photos of the action from her Windows Phone. (It must be a next-gen model; today's Windows Phones would never be able to capture a non-blurry image of this dance.) The daughter uses the integrated Share feature on Windows Phone to send a still frame of the action to the son, who adds that to the video with Windows Live Movie Maker as a title frame and then shares with others online. You know, good old-fashioned family fun.

I'm not sure what's less realistic here—that a family with teenagers would ever spend time together like this or that any one household would have that much Microsoft technology concentrated in a single room. But clearly what Microsoft is shooting for is a sense of ubiquity that, frankly, seems to elude it in the real world today.

A second ad is perhaps even less believable: In it, one of those overly precious kids you see only on TV uses PowerPoint to convince his parents that the family needs a dog. Where I come from, familiarity with PowerPoint at that young an age is tantamount to child abuse. (And this ad gets bonus points for proffering the notion that Dad is dumber than Mom, a staple of today's advertising.)

Looked at even more cynically, the 2011 Holiday selling season is an off year for Microsoft, stuck as it is between big product debuts, like the Kinect launch last year and 2012's expected release of Windows 8. So the company is in a holding pattern and wants to keep its consumer brands, such as they are, in the minds of potential customers. I understand that need. But I'd rather see Microsoft bolster the actual integration between these products—why can't Windows Phone "share" to the Xbox 360 so that we can watch photo slideshows on the TV?—than play up the fact that, hey, it makes a bunch of stuff you might or might not want.

And why the heck don't these ads use Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" as the soundtrack? Was that too obvious?

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