Microsoft’s Kathleen Hall Explains How Its Marketing Went From Bad to Clio’s Advertiser of the Year

Inventive Xbox campaigns fueled win

Microsoft has done some truly innovative work this year, and at tonight's 2016 Clio Awards at the Museum of Natural History in New York, the brand will be honored with the Advertiser of the Year award, which is presented to the advertiser that receives the most overall Clio statue points for entries submitted across all medium types.

Two campaigns that caught the Clio judges' attention, in particular, were Survival Billboard, an outdoor campaign from McCann London to promote the launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox in the U.K., and the Microsoft Xbox Visualizer, a futuristic Halo promotion from twofifteenmccann.

Survival Billboard put eight real people atop a billboard and subjected them to various weather elements like snow and rain, as voted on by the public, in a contest to see who would be left standing. The livestreamed survival challenge, which lasted 20 hours and 45 minutes, garnered 3.5 million views in one day.

The Microsoft Xbox Visualizer campaign showed people's social media conversations about Halo in real time on a pixelated Halo helmet, with fan reaction including art and video, and had 4.4 million total engagements. Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg gave the campaign a shout out in Facebook's earnings call, calling it "the prime example of video creative." 

Kathleen Hall, corporate vp of global advertising at Microsoft, chatted with Adweek about Microsoft's big Clio win and its other standout work from this year.

How did that idea for the Survival Billboard campaign come about, and why do you think the concept made sense for the launch of a video game?
Hall: We've been more focused on authenticity and focusing on the customer, which is a shift from the past: What are their passions, what gets them excited, who are our fans and what matters to them. Xbox was the real leader in the shift in the culture as it relates to marketing. We've learned to be really consumer focused, and we've brought in the right talent and agency partners to do it. It's validation that we've done it—we went from being the poster child for bad marketing to winning Advertiser of the Year. That was my dream when I took the job with Microsoft. I thought, let's go fix this. We wanted to take something that we knew could be great and make it great.

What do you think the success of the Survival Billboard means for the future of outdoor advertising? Why do you think Xbox Visualizer got so many fans engaged?
I judged creative at other awards shows this year, and the issue of innovation always comes up. Innovation doesn't just mean new technology. It also means that the so-called 'old media' has as much opportunity, if not more, than anything, because you can apply new thinking to it. There's no better innovation than a great idea. The Survival Billboard shows you that nothing beats a great idea: no amount of technology or math or data.

The two campaigns really run the gamut. Survival Billboard is old media embracing social elements, and Visualizer was really applying technological ability to engage fans' passion. Both had the same goal, with different doors into it, and that's what great creative thinking is.

In March, Microsoft did a set of ads on female inventors for Women's Day to encourage more girls to get involved in STEM. Why is it so important for Microsoft to encourage girls to consider STEM careers and push for more representation for women in tech and science?

I lead diversity and inclusion for Microsoft marketing, and as we look at the issue of hiring enough women, you keep peeling the onion. Everyone says, 'You have to recruit better,' and then people say, 'There aren't enough women in the pipeline,' and there aren't enough women in the pipeline because not enough women are graduating from STEM programs, and they're not graduating from those programs because they're dropping out of them in middle school. Girls love math and science as much as the next guy, no pun intended, but it becomes de-socialized at a certain age where it doesn't seem appropriate, or they're the lonely girl. The core of the idea was to go to the root of the problem and tell girls, 'It's OK to be the girl in the science class, and by the way, it'll pay off in the long run.'