In his brilliant book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell describes the tremendous impact that the Pepsi Challenge had on the soft drink industry in the 1980′s (see pp. 155-159). Pepsi was trailing way behind Coke in market share, but it looked like there might be a sea change. Pepsi began running ads featuring the Pepsi Challenge. The ads showed Coke drinkers being given a blind taste test between Coke and Pepsi. To the delight of Pepsi and the consternation of Coke, Coke drinkers preferred Pepsi by 14 percentage points. See? All you have to do is try Pepsi, and you’ll like it better.
Microsoft seems to be trying to channel the Pepsi Challenge with its new plug for Windows Vista: the Mojave Experiment. They’ve rounded up a bunch of Vista haters (or at least Vista skeptics) and they’ve led them through a sham market research study. Subjects were told that Microsoft, in response to criticism of Vista, had developed a new operating system called Mojave. They wanted to get some early feedback. Turns out that the Vista haters really liked Mojave … and it turns out that Mojave was really Vista. See? All you have to do is try Vista, and you’ll like it better.
Of course, not everyone has read Blink, and I wonder if that that includes the folks at Microsoft market research, and perhaps some of the bloggers who’ve been impressed with the Mojave Experiment (this means you and you and you and you, among others). Because here’s the thing about the Pepsi Challenge. Although the results were accurate, they were also very misleading.
It turns out that people really do prefer Pepsi over Coke … when they’re drinking them both one sip at a time! But give those same people the opportunity to drink full cans of both sodas in a natural environment, and it turns out they’d rather drink Coke. How do we know this? Because Coke responded to the results of the Pepsi Challenge by creating New Coke, which was engineered to taste more like Pepsi. And New Coke turned out to be one of the biggest marketing debacles in history. After returning to the old formula, which supposedly tastes worse, according to the Pepsi Challenge, Coke re-established its market dominance.
Microsoft seems to be suggesting that the Mojave Experiment is evidence that people would really like Vista if they only gave it a try. That assertion may be true, but it’s not what the Mojave Experiment shows. What Mojave shows is that Microsoft can design a short, controlled demonstration that makes Vista exceed expectations. That’s really not that hard to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone could replicate the results by doing a demo of Windows 98 instead.
Some questions NOT answered by the Mojave Experiment:
- What would Vista skeptics think of Vista if Vista suddenly got installed on their own computers and they had to work with it for a week or a month?
- Which operating system would Vista skeptics choose if they were given side-by-side demonstrations of Vista, XP, Mac OS, and Linux?
- How much would the new fans of Vista be willing to pay to upgrade from what they have now to Vista? Would they be willing to upgrade their hardware as well if that were necessary to get Vista’s benefits?
I’m not anti-Vista. But I’m not pro-Vista, either. And a cheesy marketing gimmick like Mojave won’t change my mind.