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Hey Microsoft: Enough With The Hipsters

Do you wear stupid hats? Glasses that cover more than 35 per cent percent of your face? Have a beard, even though you can’t fully grow one? Wear jeans that fit extraordinarily well? Love coke? Then you’ll adore Microsoft’s Kin, in theory!

If there’s one word that comes to mind when you see Microsoft’s Kin marketing materials – the flashy new website, the swish tubular packaging, typography-heavy imagery, or the images, events and information loaded up on their demo devices – it’s hipster. The citizens of Kin live in Vice Magazine advertorial spreads, and look like they just walked, self-consciously, out of an Urban Outfitters. Kin’s models look like caricatures (at least, to the extent that it’s possible) of those kids, from that neighbourhood, in pretty much any city.

Microsoft wants Kin to be cool. And to the extent that blunt HERE’S WHO THIS IS FOR marketing can make something cool, they might be able to pull it off. And I get that Microsoft is segmenting their phones, catering Windows Phone 7 to an older audience and the social network-centric Kin to the 16-to-25s, (Wilson’s sterling analysis here), but it’s turning out so much more narrow than that: Kin aims for a type of “cool” which hinges entirely on the cultural touchstones of a bizarrely specific subculture – the urban fauxhemian.

Microsoft says the product is “aspirational”, which I suspect is a synonym for “trendy”, but what it really is is alienating. They’re not targeting a subculture and its admirers as much as they’re inextricably linking themselves to it, at the expense of every other potential customer in the entire country. Most teens use MySpace or Facebook or even Twitter. They like taking pictures and videos and text entirely too much. But most don’t know or care who Japanther is, and most don’t dress like sci-fi flappers.

What’s weirdest about this whole campaign is just how familiar it is. Kin’s tagline is “It’s Time to Share.” The original Zune’s tagline was “Welcome to the Social.”

Desaturated, flash-burned colours? Check. Screen-printed art? Check. Nontraditionally attractive people, acting candid, wearing American Apparel? Check, check, check. All the same rules still apply.

I don’t need to tell you that the first Zune was a notorious flop. But did you know that Microsoft actually blamed its first marketing campaign, in part, for the Zune’s shitty sales? From Ad Age:

Zune’s launch campaign had a big emphasis on alternative marketing, such as its Zune Arts program consisting primarily of a website, zune-arts.net, featuring short films and music from up-and-coming artists, all of which focused on the theme of sharing and friendship. The program has wound up in the New York Museum of Modern Art. Independent shop 72andSunny, El Segundo, Calif., remains agency for Zune Arts’ planned relaunch later this month.

Kids in skinny jeans, just squirtin’ songs between one another! That was the vision. Of course, they abandoned it, because it was bizarre and inaccessible:

The new campaign includes 60- and 30-second spots illustrating a journey inside the Zune. Spots will run on cable’s Comedy Central, ESPN and other cable channels, as well as during network prime-time programming such as Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. The effort also includes ZuneJourney.net and banner ads, as well as print buys and cinema.

They went mainstream, but it was too late. So why on earth are they repeating the same mistake with Kin? If anything, the image of a Kin user is less relateable than that of the average Zune user.

Let’s all move to Brooklyn! Christ. And anyway, hipsters already have iPhones, and they’ll probably scoff at what, to them, will look like an awkward co-opting of obvious urban clichés. That leaves, what, kids who wish they were hipsters? Teenagers who dream of moving to a big city after college, and somehow think a phone can draw them closer to their goal? Is that even a thing?

So, Microsoft: Just show the young people a phone that does stuff: Facebook, Twitter, photos, video, texting, sharing, whatever. Everyone will get that. The Kin hardware is interesting, especially to non-nerds. The Kin software is attractive, and not just to upper-middle-class white kids with trust funds and arts degrees. Just show your coveted young people what the thing does, and maybe you won’t drive this brand into the ground, too.