Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Behind Microsoft's Dream-like Odyssey Through Windows 11

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
Microsoft and long-time collaborators McCann New York present a “metaphorical journey through a woman’s passions” to promote the software giant’s new operating system

Six years after the release of Windows 10, Microsoft’s whimsical new campaign shows how their new OS Windows 11 is an immersive and fresh experience that works with you.

With vibrant VFX courtesy of Framestore, McCann New York designed a spot that represents the OS’ seamless, rejuvenated functionality - from gaming in the desert with the Halo icon Master Chief, to chatting with friends above a paradisiacal lake.

Directed by Radical Media’s Tarsem Singh, the global spot showcases fantastical imaginings of Windows 11’s new features and removes the barriers and distractions between the protagonist and her uses for the software.

To discuss this dynamic collaboration, LBB’s Ben Conway spoke with Microsoft’s CVP of brand, advertising and research, Kathleen Hall and McCann’s global executive creative director Shayne Millington.

LBB> Kathleen, as a marketer, how do you get ready for a launch as big as this? What kind of conversations were you having with McCann?

Kathleen> We make a point of going straight to the source and having McCann hear about the product and key features directly from the engineers who built it. There’s an energy we find between those who create the product and those who create the messaging, which is hard to replicate on paper or through intermediaries.

Shayne> There was never a division between VFX, director, edit, client and agency. I believe that’s why this film is the visual accomplishment that it is - we all developed the story together. We conceived, shot, and went into post-production as a team. Everyone had a voice in the process at every point. 

Kathleen> It’s super collaborative. There really are no boundaries. They can tell us we are full of it and we are totally welcome to ideate creatively with them. I think that is what makes this team great. There is no beating around the bush. But there is also no disposing of ideas. Generally, we start with something that is not quite right and then we push it and prod it and work it together until we think it’s something special.

We really take a hard look at the context - what is going on in the world and how and where does this fit in?  At the intersection of those two conversations comes the core strategy, and from that the big ideas. From there, we jointly interrogate the ideas to see which ones do the best job - both building on the cultural zeitgeist and delivering the core product message.

LBB> Shayne, what were your initial thoughts on the brief, for a campaign of this magnitude?

Shayne> The last launch of Microsoft’s new operating system was six years ago. So we knew this was a massive opportunity that doesn’t come along often. We wanted to create something that did justice to the innovative beauty and simplicity of Windows 11, whilst feeling different from anything Microsoft had done in the past. It was obvious we had a beautiful product, which is where we started, but we wanted people to feel something - surprise, intrigue and wanting more.

LBB> From Microsoft’s point of view, what did you have to consider when marketing such a highly anticipated product? 

Kathleen> The main thing is that OSs are like air or electricity - essential but so much a part of everyday life that people don’t give them much thought. So, the priority is to create interest. Remind people how much this thing they use everyday matters and how even little improvements can make a big difference in their lives. 

The other thing you have to remember is to keep it simple. There are usually a ton of features and experiences that get enhanced but you have to cull it down to those that are especially motivating and demonstratable.

Shayne> We focused on showing the unencumbered freedom you have with Windows 11, to follow and stay in your imagination while welcoming those unexpected journeys that arise when being immersed in what you love.

We didn’t want to lean on the old tropes of things working perfectly and your life being in total balance, because no one can promise that, and that would come off as insincere.

Kathleen> You know when you are doing something you love and time goes by like it was nothing and you were so immersed that you were “somewhere else”? That is the feeling we wanted to create because that is what the product is designed to allow you to do.

LBB> You said you wanted to show the experience of Windows 11 “in a magical way” how did you go about doing this?

Kathleen> A big part of Windows 11 is this idea of removing barriers so you can stay in your flow, moving fluidly and effortlessly between tasks so you don’t lose your focus. The experience is immersive and smooth and visually beautiful - we wanted to find a way to bring that to life.

Shayne> There was a lot of discussion and thought that went into how we would ultimately create the experience of Windows 11. Using an operating system is a personal experience, but we wanted to attach it to a figurative feeling. We wanted the viewer to feel the freedom and fluidity of an operating system that has been designed to create a sense of calm.

LBB> Millions, if not billions of people will use Windows 11, how do you design a campaign that has such a large target audience? And what challenges does this pose?

Kathleen> We don’t think of it as marketing to billions, but marketing to needs: connecting, creating, collaborating. Broad swaths of people who may look very different generally have very common needs that they can relate to. That is what we focus on and how the product makes all those better, easier, smoother, safer, and faster.

Shayne> All brands have different challenges, it’s how you choose to make them into solutions along the way that makes it fun. For example, this spot was a global launch so language and dialogue were tricky, but because we were showing a journey we knew the visuals needed to act as the dialogue. It gave us more liberty to think far beyond what we would normally envision.

LBB> So what was the biggest challenge for each of your teams in creating this campaign, and how did you overcome it?

Kathleen> The biggest challenge was narrowing down. We had so many amazing ideas between the agency and director on how to bring to life the new features in a dramatic and cinematic way, that we had to make tough choices. 

Also, it’s always hard to see it in your mind and then have to wait to see effects come to life - the marriage of the practical and the post - it is nerve-wracking waiting for it all to come together.

Shayne> Besides a global pandemic, vehicles getting stuck in the desert sand, locations all over the globe, and envisioning a world that doesn’t exist - all on a schedule so short that people laughed when we brought it up… nope can’t think of any. 

Kathleen> Ok, one more… Music!  This one was really hard to source - we wanted mystery and romance but strength and drama. We looked at some classic tracks, some out-there tracks, instrumental, scored - all over the place - before landing on Odessa’s track which was…well, all of that combined.

LBB> Shayne, how closely did McCann work with Framestore on the VFX? It’s a really digital-heavy shoot and, given the nature of the product, the way that was displayed must have been crucial. 

Shayne> We were able to have a similar collaborative experience with all of the amazing artists at Framestore. Before we ever opened a computer, we discussed the colours, feelings, movements and materials. The trickiest part was that each chapter of the story had a completely different look and vision which required a massive team of artists with different disciplines, all working together to create a cohesive story

Kathleen> It was so refreshing and inspiring for all of us to come together again and be able to do a complex production live and in-person… and of course, working with the amazing Tarsem was literally and creatively energising.

Shayne> If you’ve seen any of Tarsem’s work, you know there’s truly no other visionary for the job. Tarsem has been creating mind-bending, visual storytelling for years. We brought him on very early in the process and treated the treatment phase like a writer’s room - ideating and conceptualising for days - until we had something that we knew we couldn’t walk away from.

LBB> Finally Shayne, how did Microsoft’s video game and Xbox ties influence the creative direction of the spot? 

Shayne> When you have such fan-favourite characters and properties like Halo’s Master Chief - or Minecraft and Flight Simulator in our holiday spot - you’re overjoyed when you can work them into your film. Not just because of the popularity, but to showcase the variety of Microsoft’s offerings and to build on such icons.

LBB> Do you have any Parting thoughts?

Kathleen> While we’ve made the most of the COVID era, in terms of stripped-down, gritty productions - like shooting entire campaigns remotely via Microsoft Teams - it really felt good to pull out all the tools in the shed for this one.  

Big, grand, theatrical, complex - we were up for it and it refreshed us in many ways

Shayne> When it was over, yes we were all exhausted, but we left as a proud team of friends.

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