Internet Explorer Commercials: A Rare Breed from Microsoft

Internet Explorer

Today I came across the new Internet Explorer commercial: Child of the 90s 

I have to say I’m pretty impressed. Whatever advertising company came up with this, and whoever in Microsoft picked them should get a round of applause. It’s very human, in a nostalgic way, yet the scenes are still somewhat related to technology changes (which strikes the softer part of a geek’s heart like me).

The execution is pretty well too.  Carefully picked childhood memories, use of bold colors, lively music, work together to bring watcher back in time. And the best thing about it is, you don’t know what the ads is about until the last seconds, where the familiar IE icon shows. It helps build up some suspension during the process and the whole point of the ad is only revealed at the end, which is :’Don’t forget your childhood, ans we are part of that memory. Come back and visit us sometime.’.  It wouldn’t work if at the beginning of the ads the IE icon displayed, then people will judge and probably just turn their attention elsewhere.

The commercial itself is actually quite generic though. Any company with some history can run this , change switch out the IE icon. So I gave more credits to the ad company than Microsoft. But still, has the taste to pick the right partner is skill too.

See, my point here not only how awesome the commercial is, but also it’s a rare breed from Microsoft. It’s corporate image has long been ‘tainted’ by Steve Ballmer’s monkey jump performance for too many years. People look at Microsoft as an influential but intimidating, bullying company. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an Apple’s work, but a commercial with a subtle approach and a soft touch come from Microsoft that people can totally relate? It is incredible impressive!

With the new Metro UI, the new commercial, I had a very vague feeling that something good (maybe very small still) on design front is happening in some corner of Microsoft. Anyone has more insights into this?

Another generic IE commercial that leverage great song from singer and good taste on Microsoft:  ‘Too Close’


Why Path Is Gaining Traction in China




In an interview TechCrunch had with Path’s CEO and co-founder Dave Morin, Dave mentioned that China is the top 5 area for Path on subscribers. Yet he isn’t quite sure about why. His answer is ‘One of the biggest segments of our users is family, and that is a big part of China’s culture.’ This answer is logical, but to a Chinese immigrant that has worked in both places like me, it’s much deeper than that. Let me explain.

I have been using Path for some time. Mainly because that Path’s user interface is very well designed and have some unique patterns and I’m a user interface guy, I have a good appetite for great UI. Since Path is a social network app focusing on private, intimate experience, I started to build up my Path ‘Friend list’. Very quickly, I found that most of my friends that using Path are from China. Being an 1st generation immigrant in US, I still has some friends in China. Usually on new apps fronts, since I’m closer to the ‘creative engine’, I used to be the early adopter. But not this time, this time there is already a small community building up around Path. It intrigued me. What did Path did right to gain this kind of early traction in China?

1. Early Adopters, wall-climbing clan?

It is quite interesting, that many early adopters of Path use it for purely one reason: It allows them to bypass Chinese ‘Great Firewall’ and actually gain access to Facebook, Foursquare and other social networks. People in China might not as informed as the rest of the world due to censorship, but the urge to know more and have free access to information is all the same. There are a lot of people, especially those work in IT industry, that are tech savvy and have access to Internet from very young age. They have access to websites, services and apps normal Chinese don’t know or care, and they don’t want to lose those. Censorship was getting in their way to web service like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. So like all the courageous frontiers do, they start to figure out different ways to ‘climb the (fire)wall’. Path, happened to be one of the ways. Visiting Facebook or Twitter via web or iOS app is totally blocked, but Path, since it’s a niche product, wasn’t on the radar. People can still share their status, check-ins in Facebook or Foursquare via Path. This is not really the kind of story of glory on Path’s side, but being a niche player as it was then really gave them some advantage.

2. Growing subscriber base, rooting for the elites.

Path always has a focus on family and closed friends. Different from Facebook’s open and everybody style, Path is more about intimate and close relationship, about sharing moments with yourself and your close circles. Like I said earlier, it’s logical to say that because Chinese has a strong focus on family, Path will naturally rooting for them. In reality, Path actually roots for the young elites of the society. Yes, Chinese has a focus on family, but there is a very big generation gap between the young generations and the old, much bigger than in US. Chinese’s Internet development just caught up these decade or so, before that, a lot of people haven’t even used a computer. So the old generation don’t really get to learn how to use Internet, let along mobile apps. Even now most city families in China own 1 or more computers, the old generations still are not comfortable to use it. (But they are getting more used to use iPhone or Android phones now, cause it’s easier for them. More on this point later). The young generations, however, grew up with Internet. Even their family can’t afford a computer and Internet access, there are Internet Cafes everywhere.  They are the main Internet content consumers in China. They spend money on apps and buy virtual goods on ‘Kaixin Farm’ (Equivalent of Farmville in China). They are the ones to support the phenomenon financial success of some Chinese Internet companies. They usually are young professionals (a lot of them works in IT or design industry), live in big city, drive their own car, and enjoy modern life just like the rest of the world. They are kind of the ‘elite’ group in China, they want to be unique, to be different, and feel good about it. Being a niche product, having a unique UI, and only runs on iPhone (at that time a symbol of fashion and coolness in China) , Path is a perfect fit for them. I think they are now the biggest demographic of Path.

3. Crossing the chasm, leverage the coolness.

So what could be the best strategy for Path if they want to expand their niche presence in China and become the mainstream? I have a fairly simple answer: Go after the ‘coolness’ and grab the young generation. Social status and peer pressure is very important in China and coolness has a price. You’ll be surprised how much money people are willing to pay just to look cool. If all the cool kid is using Path in school, then the rest will follow. If some young celebrities are using Path, fans will use the app just to follow their idol. If the young professionals are all using Path to exchange ideas, sharing photos, then you’ll have to use it to get into their circle. Some PR campaigns would also help, like sponsoring the biggest match making show ‘You are the one‘ by live blogging via Path(again Path makes the show looking cool) etc.


Image: by Apple China

Don’t worry about the older generations though. If the sons and daughters are using it, the parents will use it eventually. Family is still the core value of Chinese society after all, and cool kids will still teach their parents how to use it. (An advantage for Path is, their user interface are quite simple and intuitive, which will make the learning curve for the parents less steeper. ) The old generations will be told: ‘Mom, Dad, you really have to learn how to use this app, or risking not seeing all the update photos we took of your grandson.’

Mon and Dad will learn, oh they sure will.

Rethink ‘Content is King’

content-is-king-seoCan’t help but overheard a small discussion between two of my marketing colleagues. One is asserting that now it’s still an era of ‘Content is king’, in that the company’s website could be looking good, they might have twitter and Facebook accounts all set up as a new media outlet and even has a sound mobile strategy, but at the end of day, people still looking for content. I felt this is actually more complicated than it looks and worth some deep dive.

The phrase ‘Content is king’ is first introduced and widely discussed by Bill Gates in 1996:  “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting. … Those who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products—a marketplace of content.” In year 2012, the money spent on subscription and advertising per year is 35 billion, a 17% increase compare to the prior year,  according to comScore. So undoubtedly, content is still very important, but something has changed forever:

Change 1: Content has become a broader concept. For example, before, a fine art photograph is just that, a fine art photograph.  But nowadays, it’s a self-contained package of content: The date it’s taken, where it’s taken, with whom, what’s happening when the photo is taken, what inspired the photographer, what’s the back story about the photo, what genre this photo belongs to, then all these information needs to be distributed to different blogs, photo sharing apps, twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. to be consumed by the Internet. As an artist, it’s very simple world for them before, they just need to focus on creating great works, a.k.a. great content. But now, they need to create much more than that, because consumers dig that, the way people consume content is changing dramatically. That leads to my second point:

Change 2: The way content is consumed has become shorter, faster and shallower. Simply put, people lives in a ‘now or never’ era. In the old days, it’s not uncommon for a person to read a well thought out article, contemplate it for a week and discuss it with friends for another week to fully explore what the article tries to say. Not anymore. People rarely has time to contemplate in a ever changing world. Everything is moving so fast that we don’t have the luxury of time to stop and think deep. (Some people still manage to do that and I show my respect to them). The prevalence of twitter proves that, people are more comfortable consuming shorter, quicker, liter piece of information. There are so much information on the internet, so much content that the lifespan of any content, good or bad, has become much shorter. From a content creating point of view, this is also true, because things are moving so fast, if you didn’t capture the moment to report that new event, or capture that ‘hot genre’ to release your new song, it will very quickly become last year’s news and no one will pay any attention to it. To stand out, content provider need to do more to differentiate themselves, which lead to the next point.

Change 3:   Content itself is not enough, differentiation is the key word now. Before, publishing content has a big cost and thus big hurdle of entrance. That hurdle has long gone. The content providing industry has evolved from a ‘Hit economy’ to a more ‘long tail’ model. Small or Indie producers, amateurs, students, and the giant big hit producers are all out there creating content, and all has the possibility of being successful. (Gangnam Style anyone?) So to really standout, the content needs to be unique, well marketed, friendly to social media, and SEO optimized etc. It should also carefully choose which channel or platform to go with, so the consuming experience is great to both the older generation and the new. Content needs to differentiate anyway they can to stand out.

So in my view, content is still the king, but instead of sit in his throne all day, he now needs to practice public speech, learn how to dress properly, hone his charisma, and give friendly audiences to more people. Because even though content is king, customer is god like Japanese likes to put it.

Image: via OracleDigital