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Monday, October 11, 2010, 6:30am PDT

Windows Phone challenges us to pull our heads out of our phones

Todd Bishop

An introductory ad for Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 starts with people walking down the sidewalk, heads bowed down to the screens in their hands. Then there's the jogger doing the same thing, the woman holding the phone on the other side of the shower curtain, the guy ignoring his daughter on the teeter-totter, and so on. All leading up to the poor sap checking his phone at the urinal -- and dropping it in.

OK, Microsoft, you nailed us. We're a society run amok, ignoring the world around us. So what are you going to do about it?

The Redmond company this morning will unveil its new mobile phone operating system to the world -- challenging not only the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry but our culture of mobile distraction. In an advertising campaign introducing the phone, the company will first try to shake us to our senses, and then convince us that Windows Phone is the answer, with features "to get you in, and out, and back to life."

As a biting commentary on our culture, the ads underscore Microsoft's role as a huge underdog in the mobile market -- allowing and even requiring the company to be edgier and more irreverent.

"Obviously as a challenger brand, our first job here is to break through. Get noticed, get talked about, have a contrarian point of view, be a little edgy. Let's face it, it's not like there's any shortage of smartphones and smartphone ads in the world today," said David Webster, chief strategy officer in Microsoft's central marketing group, in an interview. "Our sentiment was that if we could have an insight to drive the campaign that flipped the category on its head, then all the dollars that other people are spending glorifying becoming lost in your screen or melding with your phone are actually making our point for us."

Created by agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the campaign includes an almost eerie introductory ad, set to Donovan's "Season of the Witch," that pans down a post-apocalyptic scene of accidents and mishaps caused by people with their heads buried in the phones. Another ad takes a more lighthearted approach, with people including the guy at the urinal. "Really?" various observers ask incredulously, echoing SNL's Seth Myers.

From those opening ads, the company will shift to spots that dive deeper into the capabilities of the phone. With centralized hubs of content and "live tiles" that put key information on the home screen, Microsoft is hoping that people will see Windows Phone as an antidote to the problem highlighted by the initial ads.

The point that we want to make with the phone advertising is not to say that using your phone in public situations is not ever appropriate," Webster said. "Our point is to say that the right phone design can allow you to get in, get that done and get back out, which is really what I think most people would strive to do if the phone didn't interfere with that by making them do too many steps, go down too many silos, switch paths too many times."

Microsoft is reportedly spending upwards of $500 million to market the Windows Phone launch. Webster declined to confirm numbers. However, he said, "This is a product we hugely believe in -- we think it's a great product, we think it's a great moment in the marketplace, so we'll be spending accordingly."

Stay tuned for more on the Windows Phone launch as details are released today. Microsoft's press conference with AT&T, beginning at 6:30 a.m., is available here.

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