SEATTLE — Microsoft’s advertising campaign for its new mobile phone is neither app-crazy nor a snowman robot.
In a massive marketing campaign that will cost Microsoft $100 million, the company is issuing a manifesto rallying people to spend less time with their phones.
You read that right: less, not more.
Windows Phone 7, which began selling Monday in the U.S., will help people break their zombielike fixations with their phone screens, Microsoft says.
The ads probably will be inescapable this holiday season, as Microsoft throws its weight behind a hoped-for comeback in the mobile-phone market.
“There’s been a bit of a dark side to the relationship people are developing with their phones,” said David Webster, chief strategy officer of Microsoft’s Central Marketing Group. “We’ve all seen this. Folks at a dinner table, should be talking to each other, are staring down at their screens. Folks sitting at soccer game sidelines, should be watching their kids, are staring down at their phones.”
The ads have begun airing on television, during the World Series and in prime time on the major networks.
One, set to the song “Season of the Witch” by Donovan, shows a slow-motion street scene in which people are staring at their phones. Another ad called “Really?” shows scenes of people consumed by their phones instead of living their lives — a bride walking down the aisle texting, a dad staring at his phone while playing catch with his son, a man dropping his phone in a urinal and picking it up.
In one ad, a guy in a club shows how he can spend less time checking messages with his Windows Phone, and more time flirting with the ladies.
Microsoft even partnered with Harris Interactive to research people’s phone behavior.
“Although 72 percent of people said bad phone behavior was one of their top pet peeves, only 18 percent admitted to actually doing it,” said Katy Asher, director of public relations for the Windows Phone group.
“Forty-nine percent of people have actually walked into something because they’ve been looking down texting.”
The company has launched a Facebook page to get people to contribute photos of head-in-phone moments.
The company has a long way to catch up with Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android platform and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry family.
While it was an early leader in mobile-phone software in the ‘90s, Microsoft has lost that lead and its share is declining.
Microsoft is trailing in fifth place in the operating-system market for these phones, with 7 percent.
Nokia’s market-leading phone software, Symbian, has 40 percent.
Research In Motion, with its BlackBerry, is in second place at 18 percent, and Google Android has grown to 16 percent. Apple iPhone has 15 percent, according to IDC, a research firm in Framingham, Mass.
Apple sold 8.4 million iPhones in the past quarter, while Google says 200,000 Android phones are activated each day.
IDC estimates 270 million smart phones will ship worldwide this year.
As a rule of thumb, people are buying new mobile phones every two years, said Rob Sanfilippo, a vice president at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm in Kirkland, Wash.
“The important message for (Microsoft) to get across is the look and feel of the user interface is different. It’s not just a me-too, another iPhone clone,” Sanfilippo said.
Microsoft has redesigned the user interface for Windows Phone 7, with large colorful tiles on the home screen that animate with new Facebook updates, photos, e-mail messages and upcoming calendar items.
The constant flow of fresh information to the home screen is what Microsoft believes will make it easier for people to get in and out of their phones quickly.
As Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said at the New York launch event on Oct. 11: “We want to let you get in, out and back to life and have that be as fast and simple as humanly possible.”
Sanfilippo doesn’t have a specific sales number he thinks Microsoft needs to hit next year, but he expects it to increase its share among mobile-phone operating systems.
“If Phone 7 can kind of put Android’s success in check a bit and show that Phone 7 curve can re-approach the Android curve, that would be a successful year for Microsoft by the end of 2011,” he said.
AT&T Wireless has two phones available for sale, the Samsung Focus and the HTC Surround.
The Focus is a touch-screen phone with a high-definition screen, and the Surround has slide-out Dolby speakers and a kickstand to keep it up for playing video. Both cost $199.99 with a two-year service plan.
T-Mobile USA has the HTC HD7, which has the largest touch screen at 4.3 inches, in the starting lineup. It also costs $199.99 with a two-year service plan and a $50 rebate.
“Regardless of what happens in the marketplace, they really are putting out a product that is different,” Sanfilippo said. “That’s good to see from Microsoft because they’ve been criticized for not innovating over the past couple years.”