Given Microsoft's enormous customer base—a January 2009 report put the technology giant's market share at 88 percent—when it launches a product, there's always a certain amount of buzz surrounding it. But rather than replicate the elaborate marketing stunt it produced for the debut of the Windows Vista operating system, Microsoft took a simpler approach to the press event introducing Windows 7. Inside Skylight Thursday, October 22, some 340 journalists, software testers, and executives from hardware manufacturing partners gathered for a six-hour launch that combined art gallery-style exhibits with live demonstrations and product vignettes.
“We wanted to create an event that represented the product and be mindful of the current state of the economy and the broad consumer mindset. So we set a tone that was simple, approachable, and authentic while demonstrating the excitement we all feel for Windows 7,” said Windows group marketing manager Ed Chase, who led the planning of the project. To pull it off, Chase collaborated with Pinnacle Exhibits and a crew of other local and West Coast companies.
Key to the launch was integrating recent marketing campaigns, including bringing out 5-year-old Kylie, the precocious star of the “I'm a P.C.” TV commercials, and creating an art gallery from the new operating system's custom artwork.
“Part of the launch event was designed to circle back and connect the pieces—you saw that with the Windows custom wallpaper used as art on the walls of the event. We also got to tie in elements of the marketing that we've done for Windows 7,” Chase said.
To incorporate a series of ads in which people proclaim “Windows 7 was my idea” and highlight how many of the product's features were a result of user input, Microsoft also invited software testers to the event. “It was our way of celebrating the customers who provided input that lead to Windows 7,” Chase said. It also added a populist, grassroots element to the launch of a pervasive, often-derided product.
To emphasize the product and add to the clean aesthetic, the production team divided the venue into several different areas, revealing only a few at a time. The long corridor on the east side of the building was the first stop for guests, its entrance marked with a backlit Windows logo and its walls hung with large-format canvas prints of the Windows wallpaper. In the main gallery, Microsoft used drapes to create an intimate dinner-theater-style space, which was dominated by a stage outfitted with 12 LCD monitors mounted to a trellis-like backdrop.
The most pivotal element, however, was a reveal, which followed the keynote presentation from Ballmer and an on-stage demonstration of the software. Behind a curtain opposite the stage, Chase and his production team built five individual environments designed to speak to five different types of Windows users. These vignettes—showcasing how to use Windows to organize your life, to play games, as a media center, for business, or to work on the go—surrounded a display of hardware from Microsoft's original equipment manufacturers such as Dell and Samsung.
With guests on site for six hours, the technology brand had to offer sustenance. Shiraz Events provided an array of passed hors d'oeuvres and stationed nibbles that included trays of mini mac and cheese bites, a dessert bar with red velvet cupcakes, mini tartlets, chocolate cardamom cake, and pear and dark chocolate bread pudding, and one area where attendees could add their own sauce to cones of shrimp, chicken kebabs, or veggie skewers.