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The Epic Scale of Windows 95 Marketing
Before there was Steve Jobs in a sleek black turtleneck, there was Bill Gates awkwardly dancing to The Rolling Stones.
When it comes to high-profile product launches, especially in the tech space, people often picture Steve Jobs announcing the iPod or the iPhone. But this week marks the 30th anniversary of an earlier game-changing product – Windows 95.
The Windows 95 event may not be the masterclass in business presentations that Apple’s launches have become known for, but it put Microsoft, Bill Gates and personal computing on the map. It was an incredible marketing undertaking.
It was also a huge risk.
Microsoft spent a staggering $300 million promoting Windows 95. Gates and company dropped $12 million alone just for the rights to “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones as a nod to the operating system’s Start Button. They booked Jay Leno for the launch event. Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry appeared in a “cybersitcom” on how to use Windows 95.
Even marketing pros at the time called the promotion campaign “excessive.”
Product Launches are Perilous
History is littered with failed product launches, from the Ford Edsel to Crystal Pepsi. The reason, according to Harvard Business Review, is often a lack of preparation.
In the case of Windows 95, the preparation was there. Microsoft sent hundreds of thousands of copies to testers to search for bugs. It even pushed back the launch date to ensure the product was really ready.
That due diligence may well have made all the difference. The launch went off without a hitch (minus some very awkward dancing), and Microsoft sold 7 million copies in the first five weeks.
The all-encompassing marketing efforts made Windows 95 a household name and drove competing operating systems into tech oblivion.