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Business: Remembering Microsoft's Bob & a Brand Failure

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Business: Remembering Microsoft's Bob & a Brand Failure


Written by  Laurinda Seabra
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 14:31

We have to keep in mind that there are numerous reasons why brands fail. Sometimes it is because the market they are associated with has become obsolete. Other times it is as a result of extending into an unsuitable product category.

In some, dramatic cases it is the result of a high-profile scandal which causes the public to boycott the brand. Often though, the reason for failure is more straightforward. Many brands fail because they are simply bad ideas that haven’t been properly researched. Occasionally these failures are the result of strong, established brands coming up with a new variation of their product.

Understanding that new product categories should be avoided, brands stay within their original category but come up with a bizarre twist on the formula. But why should that matter?

After all, branding isn’t about products, it is about perception. This is the new marketing mantra. And yet, there is no escaping the fact that at least part of this perception centres around the product itself.

The cleverest brand strategy in the world cannot make consumers buy a product they don’t want. Or at least, it can’t make them buy it more than once. While it is true that the market leader is not always the best in terms of quality, it is equally true that if a product is truly bad or truly pointless it will be unable to find eager customers.

The real question is, how do bad products appear in the first place? If the consumer doesn’t want them, why invent them? Because companies still insist that they know better than their customers. It is certainly true that market research has failings of its own. As Henry Ford remarked on the launch of his Model T, ‘if I had asked the customer, he would have asked for a faster horse.’

The problem is that what companies consider sublime, the customer all too often treats as ridiculous. Bottled mineral water for dogs? Great idea, says the company. A joke, responds the customer.


Here come's Bob

Even some of the world’s most successful brands have been guilty of introducing incredibly bad products. For instance, in 1995 Microsoft came up with the idea of a ‘social interface’ called Bob.

The idea was that Bob, a helpful animated man with glasses (looking very much like Bill Gates), would provide help and information in a ‘conversational, social style.’ To add to Bob’s personality, he was given a number of ‘friends’ such as Rover the dog, Scuzz the sewer rat and a ‘friendly dragon’. The product was aimed at adults, yet no-one old enough to tie their own shoelaces wanted to use it.

Now imagine a whole new operating system designed around Clippy, and you get the crux of what was the Microsoft Bob. Bob was designed to be an easier interface for Windows 95 users, Bob envisioned your computer as his house — with you as a guest. Ever so accommodating, he'd even supply cartoon sidekicks to guide you through simple tasks.

The software was expensive and overly cutesy, and it failed to compete with Apple's Macintosh, the user-friendly standard at the time. And though Bob is long gone, he left one enduring blight on the Web: Comic Sans, perhaps the worst font of all time, was created exclusively for Bob.


Final words

So when you are designing a new brand, or rebranding it, always remember Microsoft's Bob! Keep in mind that branding is futile if the consumer doesn’t like the product.


Source: First published in

Author: Laurinda Seabra, 9 December 2014



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