Reflecting on Microsoft’s ninjacats, babies, schoolgirls and dancers

Brad Stephenson

Reflecting on Microsoft's ninjacats, babies, schoolgirls and dancers

Nothing screams “internet” more than an image or video of a cat and while the overuse of the feline species in product marketing and merchandise has begun to wear a bit thin, it can still be fun to see cats used in self-aware media creations such as in the new Xbox One game, Trials Fusion The Awesome Max Edition and Just Dance 2015’s bizarre “Holding Out for a Hero” level.

Microsoft’s ninjacat is another example of a fun use of the ol’ internet cat cliché. Inspired by the popular image created by Jason Heuser featuring the holy trinity of internet memes; cats, unicorns and rainbows, Microsoft’s version first appeared on Microsoft’s campus in the form of stickers distributed to attendees. Once the internet became aware of this, its popularity grew to the point where Microsoft has now released their own ninjacat wallpapers and raw images for Windows 10 fans to customize and distribute. It’s a way to share in the fun nerdery of the niche craze but is also an obvious attempt at an almost-organic viral marketing campaign for the new operating system which is just a week away.

In addition to the original “Ninjacat Riding a Unicorn” design, two new designs featuring the cat riding a T-Rex and a narwhal (which is also skewering two slices of bacon, another recent internet meme) can be downloaded in a variety of sizes for PCs and tablets, smartphones, and the Microsoft Band.

The ninjacat may be a relatively niche marketing attempt by Microsoft but it does target the more internet-savvy consumer who may not relate to, or may be even been turned off by, the recent mainstream Windows 10 commercials featuring babies (who are essentially the “internet cat” of modern TV). These new ads are obviously promoting the longevity of the Windows 10 platform through the use of babies but they are also leaving some people confused due to the ambiguous nature of their presentation. Sometimes people just want information over hype.

The baby commercials may not be the most groundbreakingly original marketing Microsoft has ever done but it’s getting a much more positive reaction than their recent attempt at internet meme creation which many have nicknamed, “the anti-diversity tweets”. Unlike the ninjacat, which experienced an organic growth in popularity, this attempt at viral image marketing by Microsoft was a completely forced creation that not only misinterpreted online humor but totally underestimated the images’ potential to offend.

These images, which were tweeted out by official Microsoft Twitter accounts, attempted to use self-deprecating humor to poke fun at developers, programmers and marketers but resulted in perpetuating negative stereotypes that many in those fields fight on a daily basis. The mobile worker was shown as an unhygienic and lazy man who leaves rotting food on his desk while the chief financial officer was portrayed as wearing a toupee and having an odd sense of humor. There was also the fact that all of the jobs were filled by men except for the marketer who was shown to be the stereotypical high heel-wearing, small dog-carrying business woman who suffers from a mood disorder. Yeah, that.

Microsoft's Anti-Diversity Images

These tweets were quickly deleted but the images had already gone viral and not in the way Microsoft had intended. People were outraged.

Microsoft has often been criticized for an apparent inability to read their audience and promote their products with their initial presentation of the Xbox One being one such example of a major misfire and the less than successful launch of Windows 8 being another.

It’s not just in the West that Microsoft has suffered from odd marketing decisions. Microsoft continues to do poorly with their newly launched Xbox One console in China due to an inability to promote it in a relevant way to the local culture and sell it at a reasonable price. The company has also had a hard time in Japan and barely promotes their Xbox One console at all. They have admittedly done fairly well though with Windows and have done significant domestic promotion for the Surface line of products, often using repurposed American commercials such as the enjoyable Surface “The Vibe” and “Movement” commercials which featured an eclectic mix of professional dancers from a variety of demographics.

While not high on technical product details, these ads did do a great job of presenting the unique physical design of the Surface line while also managing to introduce the use of a stylus to traditional Windows PC users. “The Vibe” and “Movement” also exuded a sense of fun and energy that had been sorely lacking in Microsoft marketing up until then, and many could argue, hasn’t been seen since.

Of course, Microsoft also produces some marketing campaigns specifically targeted at the Japanese market with some being more successful than others. The most obvious example of a Japan-specific marketing campaign is the creation of a Japanese schoolgirl anime-style mascot for each new operating system it launches. These characters are designed more to sell products to the niche hardcore demographics than the general population and have been successful with their target audience in the past though with Japan suffering more and more from mascot fatigue due to companies relying on them to advertise almost everything it will be interesting to see how popular Windows 10’s schoolgirl will be. With Windows 10 being Microsoft’s last OS though, the days of Microsoft OS Japanese mascots may thankfully be over.

Microsoft's Japanese Windows Mascots

While some of Microsoft’s marketing campaigns have been more successful than others over the years, it’s hard not to respect the company for at least trying something new with their advertising each time a product or service is released. It stands in sharp contrast to other companies such as Apple who simply release new iterations of what is essentially the same commercial over and over again.

Which Microsoft commercial or marketing strategy do you like (or loathe!) the most? Are you all aboard the ninjacat train or do you find that so 2012? What do you think about the new Windows 10 baby commercials? Epic win or massive fail? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below and let us know what you think Microsoft should do to better market themselves to consumers in the future.