Microsoft's "Windows. Life Without Walls" marketing campaign shifts focus away from any particular operating system back to master brand—uberbrand, if you like—Windows. In past branding talks with Microsoft executives, Windows was emphasized as being a hugely recognizable brand. It's a reason, perhaps the only one, that "Windows" precedes so many Live services or that Windows Live replaced so many MSN products and services.
But Microsoft has a problem with bloggers, competitors, critics, enthusiasts and journalists. The majority tend to use shorthand. Windows gets dropped from XP or Vista. The brand impact diminishes. Vista isn't the same as Windows Vista.
Writers are taught not to leave numbers hanging, and if they did there would be confusion with something else. Who refers to Windows 95 as 95, or Windows 2000 as 2000? Nobody. By choosing Windows 7, Microsoft compels more people to use Windows as part of the product name. Always. This reinforces the Windows brand, something Microsoft wants to do if for no other reason than distance from shorthand Vista.
But there are positive brand reasons for the naming, too, particularly as Microsoft puts more emphasis on Windows as the brand identity. From a purely marketing perspective, it is better for Microsoft if most references are Windows 7.
I'm a real pain in the ass because I continue using shorthand. I often use Seven to refer to Windows 7. But Microsoft could even gain from pests like me. Companies can come to control single words to a marketing advantage. In a November Advertising Age article, Al Ries explained how the Barack Obama campaign came to own "change." He writes:
Look at what 'driving' has done for BMW. Are there vehicles that are more fun to drive than BMWs? Probably, but it doesn't matter. BMW has pre-empted the 'driving' position in the mind. The sad fact is that there are only a few dozen brands that own a word in the mind and most of them don't even use their words as slogans. Mercedes-Benz owns 'prestige,' but doesn't use the word as a slogan. Toyota owns 'reliability,' but doesn't use the word as a slogan.
Could Microsoft come to command "Seven," or, better, "7" as a marketing word? How about "lucky 7" as an alternative? Probably not, is the likely answer. The marketing word Microsoft wants to own, or at least to restore, is "Windows." The phrase it wants to own, like Coke with "the real thing" or Pepsi's "the Pepsi generation," is "I'm a PC."
The "I'm a PC" association would be guerrilla marketing as it's meant to be, and Microsoft would get a delicious victory. Marketing ownership belonged to Apple, from the phrase "Hello, I'm a PC. And I'm a Mac." Revenge is a dish served cold, right?
Presumably Microsoft marketers have figured all this naming stuff out just like I've blogged. If not, they got lucky.