Windows Phone, Still An Underdog, Comes Out Swinging In A New Ad

Windows Phone got some good news and some bad news today from the consumer research firm Kantar. The bad: Microsoft's smartphone OS accounted for a meager 5.6% of all U.S. smartphone sales in the first quarter. The comparable number for Android was 49%; for iOS, 44%.

The good: Windows Phone's showing was a significant improvement, up a full 1.9 percentage points over a year earlier. By contrast, Blackberry — which is rolling out its new operating system, BlackBerry 10 — saw its U.S. share crater in the quarter to less than 1% from 3.7% a year ago. 

In a statement, Kantar analyst Mary-Ann Paralto noted that Windows Phone is "now at its highest sales share figure" ever in the U.S. 

Possibly in anticipation of the good news, Microsoft has just released a new Windows Phone commercial. It doesn't show off the platform nor offer any reason why Windows Phone is a better choice than its rivals. Rather, it takes a page from Samsung and mocks both iPhone and Android users.

When you're far behind in the market, casting yourself as a viable alternative to the market leaders — while simultaneously mocking said leaders — can be a winning strategy. Or, you know, it can smack of desperation.

In this case, however, the ad is so over-the-top, and Microsoft appears to be having so much fun making fun of iPhone and Android users, that it works. Android users are silly hipsters. iPhone users are old. Siri doesn't work. Samsung devices are ridiculously large.

Will the ad help Microsoft sell more Windows Phone phones? Doubtful.

The problem is that the ad is focused on the wrong audience: current iPhone and Android users. Even at the end, Microsoft says, "don't fight, switch." Only, those existing users aren't Microsoft's logical target. Microsoft needs to target folks who haven't yet chosen a side — that is, owners of non-smartphones (what the industry, for its own unfathomable reasons, calls "feature phones"). The Kantar survey noted as much (emphasis added): 

Windows strength appears to be the ability to attract first time smartphone buyers, upgrading from a featurephone. Of those who changed their phone over the last year to a Windows smartphone, 52% had previously owned a featurephone.  

Building market share based on getting iPhone and Android users to switch is likely not a winning strategy, at least not yet. An analysis of U.S. smartphone owners, for example, found that 91% of current iPhone owners planned to stay with the platform — and the majority of those who were likely to switch planned to switch to Android. A smaller, though still sizable 76% of Android users planned to stay with the platform. Most of those likely to switch intend to get an iPhone, not Windows Phone.

But there's no reason to expect the rational from Microsoft — not when it's so far behind. With the new mocking ad, and the large gap between Windows Phone and leaders iPhone and Android, expect Microsoft's marketing to become even more aggressive and in-your-face.

Earlier this year, founder Bill Gates publicly stated he was not pleased with Microsoft's mobile device sales and he characterized the company's smartphone strategy as a "mistake." That no doubt lit a fire under Steve Ballmer and company. Who knows, maybe the scenes inside Microsoft's Redmond headquarters are as acrimonious as those in its newest commercial. 

Along with the U.S., Kantar tracks smartphone sales data in 9 countries, including China, Australia, Japan, France and Great Britain. Now that Symbian has been effectively deprecated, Windows Phone appears set to take third place — a very distant third place — in all of them, with the possible exception of Japan.  

Lead image from Windows Phone video