Bold Vistas for Microsoft

SAN FRANCISCO Imagine a computer screen that is three-fourths the length of a football field, surrounding you as you walk down an airport arcade.

Unveiled last night, a series of 40 plasma screens in the American Airlines terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport puts travelers inside a 230-foot animated display of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system, which makes its much anticipated global debut this week.

The JFK installation is a key part of the estimated $400-500 million global marketing campaign by Interpublic Group’s McCann Worldgroup to launch the long-delayed Vista OS.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates hosted a party in Times Square yesterday and joked with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last night to kick off the launch.

The marketing mix relies heavily on digital, online and event marketing, with network TV spots taking a supportive role, said sources. Designed around the tagline “The Wow starts now,” the bulk of the marketing integrates Vista’s product features and icons into various media, said Matt Ross, president of McCann Worldgroup, San Francisco.

For example, Vista’s three-dimensional format for flipping pages will be used to show previews in TV programs such as CSI and Lost. The same format is used on large digital billboards around the world, including the JFK installation.

A trio of TV spots that broke last night are more traditional, showing vignettes of historic and personal moments of amazement, such as the Woodstock Festival, the Mercury 7 space launch and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Each ad ends with a man in an office starting his computer.

A related online contest, “Show us your Wow,” asks for consumers’ submissions.

Research showed consumers had an “initial visceral emotional reaction to the look and feel of the Windows Vista interface,” which was followed by interest in the enhanced functionality of the system, said Ross, That initial sense of surprise guided the marketing approach, he said.

Microsoft is using the high-profile Vista launch to counter growing competition from Apple among business users and position the brand as simple, easy and fun to use in the consumer market, according to industry sources.