Ubuntu Marketing Focus

There is a discussion going on in the Ubuntu Marketing team’s mailing list about creating Ubuntu videos in order to advertise Ubuntu to normal users. We got onto talking about existing adverts from Microsoft and Apple and I thought I’d share with the wider community my thoughts.

Interestingly when you look at the adverts for both companies you find an interesting pattern.

Often a leading brand / product doesn’t need to reference it’s competition, it just goes along with “We’re awesome, and everyone knows it”, The second fiddle is often comparing it’s self to the market leader.

What we have is Apple constantly comparing themselves to PC (even though an Apple is a PC and what they really mean is windows). Then Apple’s adverts were so successful that they put Microsoft on the defensive and they produced a bunch of laptop hunter adverts that mention Apple’s expensive laptops, unusual strategy for a market leader. But then the dynamic is kinda odd since Microsoft is a software company and Apple is a hardware company. so it’s not like they’re competing… not really.

But you’ll notice that every advert reinforces a set of ideas:

1) That there is such a thing as a Mac and it’s not a PC.
2) That a PC is Windows and nothing else.
3) That there are only two choices.
4) That you have to pay one way or another.
5) No one need worry about control when they get fancy features.

It’s interesting that we don’t play on our strengths of pointing this out, getting people to go “Oh hey there is something else, oh it can be installed on any PC, even Apple PCs, oh it’s free and I get to OWN it, control it, give it to my friends and even get involved with real people who make it, not just marketing departments.

There is a whole bunch of stuff we could focus on in very clever ways. But what I see a lot of here is tail chasing… lets copy them because they’ve spent money on those adverts. Perhaps people really have bought into the ideas in those adverts and that just sounds like the adverts were successful in telling their story and we want our story to be Microsoft’s or Apple’s because we were taken in.

But why do we want to tell the same story when we’ve a completely different narrative that’s run our communities for years.

Your thoughts?

26 thoughts on “Ubuntu Marketing Focus

  1. Good marketing is bending the truth. FOSS is not really compatible with that.

    Educating people is the way to go. Linux can do so many things better than either Mac and Windows.

    Pointing out that Apple products are expensive and even more so when you want to go away from them might be a good angle.

    But people like free & easy.
    That is what Ubuntu should focus on .. build a truely great Application store and automate all common task (codec/programm installs for everything) and tell people to give it a try.

  2. Great ideas, you really get into the mind of a marketing guy….

    The first thing that my friends notice and admire about Ubuntu is that it is not affected by viruses. Its SECURE.

    The second thing is that they don’t have to worry about paying for most of the apps or pirating them (which is a fairly common thing in India). Its FREE.

    The third thing they notice is that it is RELIABLE. That is, even if they have to reinstall Windoze every few months, the Ubuntu install just keeps on working as new.

    The fourth thing would be that it is SIMPLE. I’d say, Ubuntu provides an optimum balance between the “ultra simplicity” provided by OS X and the “extra features” provided by Windows.

    I think these are great aspects to focus on if we are targeting people new to Ubuntu.

  3. They’ve been doing that for years, it’s growing slowly and will keep people there. But there a holes in that approach we should look to fill if we can.

    The other problem is that you propagate the myth than Ubuntu is Linux or that Linux is an operating system that people should even know about. When it’s a kernel project and the truth of the matter is that we confuse people by constantly calling Free Desktops and the community of developers and their projects under this spurious and incorrect banner.

  4. Still has a long way to go though. Even though Ubuntu has only been around for less than a decade, it’ll maybe take another few years til package management, codec installation and general computer usage will be “easy” for the so-called average user.

  5. Great blog post as always Martin, and as expected, a colossal four responses. Ugh.

    Once again this is a very simple design question at hand: audience and goal. If you don’t clearly state that, you are likely to get a plethora of opinions that, when read as a whole, are nothing better than noise.

    The data comes from sifting. Who is this for? What is the goal? Who is it for and what is it going to do for them?

    @Tom: “Good marketing is bending the truth.”

    Couldn’t disagree more. Good marketing is playing your strengths like a hand of cards.

    @Suvish V.T.: “Its SECURE.” Yes it has better roots than Windows, but promoting on secure when you are struggling against a BSD is… let’s call it equal.

    “Its FREE.” Yes… nothing like creating an appearance of quality and luxury by peddling the fact that you can get a side of fries with it. Does “Dollar Store” speak quality? It might be extremely effective in some cultures, but it is a recipe for death in a Westernized context in light of competition.

    “…it is RELIABLE.” Sure it is. X never breaks does it? While we can bicker about the details, are you willing to say that it is more reliable than other systems? Really?

    “…is SIMPLE.” Subject to audience, I dare say that in comparison with mainstream systems and the boatload of peer support that comes along, this is simply a flat out lie. Yes there are some elements that are ‘simple’, but by and large, nothing is simpler than getting a machine that sets up your iLife and your iMusic and your iWeControlitAll, is … silly.

    At that core of this discussion Martin is the question of who. I’d dare say that you are looking for something that actually plays a card that the other’s can’t. Something with ‘teeth’.

    I would be right there with you. Why we _are not_ attacking with the core of the issues at stake? What is computing freedom? Why is it important? What is a pitfall of not having control?

    Of course, you are fighting a might battle at that point. The media medium is largely controlled by fanboys. Their time has finally come, and the chance that anyone will give an ear to someone raining on the iParade is… remote.

    Still, to date, this is the _only_ example of quality work I have seen in this capacity. It nails a visceral chord of emotions and captures a very lovely concept. Wrap it all up in a helluva well executed vision and well… no shocker nothing has come close since:

  6. I think one of the big problems with advertising Linux is there is a disconnect between what open source advocates think is important and what average users do. By this I mean the free argument (beer and speech).

    Average users don’t care about free as in beer as much as everyone assumes they will because the price of Windows is built into the price of the computer. An average user never goes into the store and buys a shrink wrapped copy of Windows for hundreds of dollars they just buy a new PC and have windows be on it. Yeah Linux being free is great when you wanna put something on an older PC and rejuvenate it, but for a new PC, the price comparison just isn’t really there. Yeah there are netbooks that come with Linux which cost a tiny bit less than the windows counterpart, but I stick by my assessment, the price of Windows is effectively free for most users.

    So problem number 1 is how do you make being free as in beer seem attractive to an average user?

    Free as in speech is even more of a thorny issue. This may come as a shock to open source advocates, but really most people don’t care about freedom unless it is directly stopping them do something. IE. DRM sucked because people would try to put all the music they bought from Microsoft on their iPod on Christmas day and it wouldn’t work. Thats a bummer. But does something as lofty as ideological freedom really benefit an end user? No not really. Not unless you can put it into a real world context that every single PC user can relate to.

    In a world where the average user will just browse the web on IE because thats what came on the machine, and will try to play the 5 codecs that work in Windows Media Player instead of downloading VLC, does giving total freedom to change the code really benefit these users? If they can’t be motivated into switching out the default applications you are kidding yourselves if you think this stuff matters to them.

    The argument of ‘You can share it with your friends’ isn’t really a strong selling point, because for that to mean anything it involves your friend agreeing to try it out after you have shared it, and that obviously comes after you have sold him or her on all the other benefits first, so this is a territory at best kind of a selling point. Once you have sold them on everything else and they are interested, then the sharing point comes into play but not before.

    I see the freedom side of things more as a brand positioning thing rather than an end user sell. By that I mean if you show how Ubuntu is helping kids in the 3rd world use computers that gives a positive message about Ubuntu, but its not ultimately going to make think it is better or worse than Windows for my needs because it is doing that.

    This is the problem with advertising Linux, one of the core attributes of the OS (the freedom) just frankly doesn’t matter to the end user. All the end user cares about is it makes the stuff they wanna do easy to do and without headaches. This is why the Mac adverts are so effective.

    Ultimately, while I think Ubuntu need to take the same approach as Apple… Sell it based on how it makes your life easier. Sell it based on how it makes your life easier. Sell it based on how it makes your life easier. Computers are really annoying things for average users, us geeks can just fix things and set things up how we want them, but average users just put up with a bunch of crap and just assume all computers are like that.

    Examples of a selling point we could use:

    – You don’t have to spend $100s on office software or worry about getting a trojan trying to download dodgy versions online, Ubuntu comes with a full office suite (and loads of other apps) right on the disk. Within 1 minute of installing the OS I’m already writing my school paper.

    I use this example because it touches on the fact that is open source and has free software, but I am not selling the OS based on these lofty freedom arguments, I am selling the OS on a real problem people face every day: You buy a new computer and it only comes with a demo for MS Office at best. That means you have to go to extra trouble and expense to get basic functionality on your PC.

    This is why the security/spyware argument is so much more compelling than the freedom argument to average users. It fixes a real world problem. I know loads of adults who still refuse to buy things online because they perceive it to be too risky. That tells me there is a huge opportunity to sell them on a solution to this problem.

    In conclusion, forget about the freedom argument, unless you can apply it to a real world problem. A far more effective approach of advertising Ubuntu would be to make a list of all the most common problems people face with computing today. Go out and ask people on the street what they find the most annoying, most frightening, and take the 10 you think Ubuntu can most effectively fix and advertise the hell out of that. If freedom comes into it then great, but otherwise no one really gives a shit, thats the reality.

    When you can sell Ubuntu as a compelling OS that people would switch to even it cost as much as Windows, or even if you had to buy special expensive hardware, that is the point Ubuntu will gain market share. Not a moment before.

  7. I don’t agree, I think your missing the point that Freedom is not a lofty ideal but a practical tool. I don’t think you know how to use it though or you’d be a little more in touch with it.

    And this is what I mean by telling _our_ story. We serve users and we serve them well, but it’s about telling them how we do that. If you forget freedom then you miss the point and refuse to explain how the community even functions. Creating confusion and mistrust.

  8. I just started using Ubuntu and I love it!! It is relatively easy to use, the only issue I had was installing codecs and getting used to the audio controls.

    I teach at a university in Eastern Canada and there are so many people (Faculty, staff, and students) that are unaware of Ubuntu. They only know of Windows and Macs, and if they have heard of Linux, they view it as too complicated.

    I’m going to start spreading the word about Ubuntu, and hopefully others will follow.

  9. I’d really like to be able to provide local cable access a well-packaged introduction to free software. So many people don’t know or understand what it is, why it’s legal to use and share it, and the many advantages.

    But there’s such a story behind the Debian and Ubuntu distributions — not only with the software, but with so many people from so many places contributing to these efforts. National Geographic should do an hour-long show on it.

  10. “Freedom is not a lofty ideal but a practical tool”

    Then you sell people on the practically of it. Simple.

    It doesn’t sound like we strictly disagree. What I am saying is I see far too many Linux users talk about freedom (beer and speech) as a switching argument and its not, not unless you can put it into the context of a real problem that the freedom then fixes. From a marketing stand point you have to strike right at the heart of a problem computer users face on a daily basis.

    Apple’s adverts worked so well because they took the problems that people deal with on a daily basis and say “You don’t get that crap with a Mac”. Linux needs to do the same, it needs to present itself first and foremost as a solution to today’s computer problems. Freedom can most certainly be part of that, but only in the context of fixing these problems. In fact, I believe that the true sign Ubuntu has matured will be the point when you can completely ignore the freedom argument and still sell Ubuntu to people in a compelling way. (Not saying we need to ignore freedom to go mainstream, just that we should be so compelling we could still beat the competition even without it)

    Take a look at this old Mac advert. It is exactly my argument personified.

    It presents 1 single problem all computer users hate, and offers a solution to it. In our own little way we need to do the same thing.

    “Don’t you hate it when X happens? Well my Ubuntu machine doesn’t do that.” is the vibe we need to aim for.

    The key is ‘Don’t you hate it when… ” ,if its not something the person can identify with as a problem that has pissed them off in the past then the message does not resonate.

    That is why for example I find the ‘You can share it with your buddies” such a piss poor argument to sell Linux, as how many people have thought to themselves. “If only I could give my friend a copy of Windows 7, my computing experience would be so much better”. Sorry, doesn’t happen.

    The message needs to be compelling.

  11. I acknowledge your response. But what I did was to merely point out what attracts my non-techie friends to Ubuntu. I think that advertising is the first step to get people on to your product. The first step means first impressions. What better way to advertise than to highlight the good first impressions?

    Your responses are very accurate but it is also “the details”. I’d disagree that Ubuntu is not a reliable system, I think it is very reliable once you get it setup right. To get it setup right is an entirely different topic. For starters, I can confidently say that it is more reliable than OS X or Windows once it is setup. I gain that confidence from personal experience.

    I agree with you on the issue of Computer Freedom. Its a topic I am guilty of not touching upon.

    BTW, that IBM ad is REALLY slick. But I think its an ad mainly targeting the Server and business people, and not the consumers as much.

  12. Considering an anthropologist has dedicated her life to studying Debian and the free software community from the inside, I doubt a one hour show could cover even the basics of Debian/Ubuntu well.

  13. Troy, I remember and love that ad, but I had almost forgotten it.

    The IBM ad has the same premise as what I was ruminating on as I read the post: that Linux/Ubuntu gets input from many places.

    Two rough ideas that contrast Ubuntu with proprietary software, using Apple’s “Our dude vs. other dude” schtick:

    On a white screen, “our dude” is be constantly interrupted by people wandering past to do helpful things for him, but slipping away before he could manage to thank them or even recognize them.
    The “other dude” (proprietary software user) has something like this going on: http://youtube.com/?v=8iVCfYQPUUI

    Alternately, “our dude” would be in a crowd full of people handing him small gifts/toys/etc., while the “other dude” would be dwarfed by some terrifying, faceless corporate monolith with a spout raining boxed software on him.

  14. When I have been in discussions promoting Ubuntu to a non-Ubuntu users, the tactics I use are twofold:

    a) I get a non-techie to sell it to the potential convert. “I switched from Windows to Ubuntu because of thus-and-such, and it’s been great because of A, B, and C! And it completely eliminated spyware and virus problems!”

    b) When the user seems to fret about something, this is when the techie (me) steps in. “Don’t worry, I will be there to help you. I don’t think you will have any problems, but if you do I can help you get them solved.” My role is not to sell, but to quell the sense of risk.

  15. Btw, I don’t know what the plans are with this video, but I always fancied the idea of rather than contriving analogies or trying to explain free software, to just get end-users to explain things in their own words.

    Like, just show interesting people answering the question, “Why did you switch to Ubuntu?” and maybe, “What’s your favorite thing about Ubuntu?”

    After all, open source – and especially Ubuntu – is about community and giving freedom to the user, so it’d send a good message to have the messaging come from users themselves.

    You could take it even a step further, and run your marketing campaign to be not a 20th-century style top-down thing (like a getting people to watch a television commercial), and be more of a crowd-sourced bottom up thing, by posing a simple question (like either of the above) and use social media to get people to share their answers via facebook and the like. People might also give it more attention when the ‘advert’ is from a friend or family member than from some organization they’ve never heard of before.

  16. Testimonials are a good concept, too.

    But big budgets and large advertising agencies aren’t necessarily required for high production values and really fantastic videos. Lots of examples at http://www.vimeo.com/staffpicks — many are just people fiddling in their own time.

    The Blender project’s Orange/Peach/Apricot/Durian shorts are proof the open source userbase is bursting with creative talent. I don’t think that a slick ad has to necessarily be divorced from the community.

  17. I think Linux overall is going to be harder to sell to people since Ubuntu just dropped OpenOffice in favour of Google Docs.

  18. I think Linux isn’t a thing to be sold to people, since it’s not an operating system.

    But OpenOffice was dropped from the NetBook remix, not from the normal install. Unless you have data showing otherwise.

    Although I agree it’s a dumb move.

  19. My issue with the Apple versus PC commercials is the comparison is not apples to apples. Apple make both the hardware and software as a highly integrated system; where as, Microsoft only make the software. Apple does not have to deal with the variety of hardware that Microsoft does. Secondly, its not clear to me what marketing problem is being solved in this blog. There are unsophisticated home users of computing systems and there are the same users in a business environment. The marketing solutions to these two environments is different. Apple does not market to business users. Will Ubuntu do the same? You might be missing the boat if you do. Lastly, Linux has a hobbyist label that will have to be overcome. The idea of free software, easy development only lends itself to software developers not to unsophisticated home or business users.

  20. That’s why we don’t promote “Linux”, it’s not an operating system, it’s just a kernel project.

    Promote Free Software, Free Desktops or promote specifics like Ubuntu.

  21. One of the things both companies are selling to users is lifestyle. It’s not about the machine, nor the operating system but about how it reflects who you are (this is more apparent in the Apple ads and Microsoft kind of sucks when they try to go there.) One avenue you might take is to explore the lifestyle aspects of Open Source. Instead of selling how hip you are or how great a business guy you are, sell what a great person you are in the community.

    -Your Wife

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