#MI1020 – When Microsoft got marketing right

After heavily criticising a Microsoft marketing failure, it seems only fair to praise them when they manage to pull off a success. In this case, I’m talking about the #MI1020 viral campaign run in London to promote the new Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone.

What was #MI1020?

#MI1020 was run in conjunction with Gingerline – an events team who specialise in themed dining experiences. The concept behind a Gingerline event is simple; people turn up at any London Overground station between Islington and Crystal Palace and wait for a text message containing instructions of where to meet. They are sworn to secrecy, and left completely in the dark to maximise the surprise when they finally arrive.

The MI1020 Secret Tasting Facility

The MI1020 Secret Tasting Facility

When they reach the rendezvous point, guests are then given additional clues which eventually lead to their final destination and a four course meal. The meal and entertainment are all themed, with previous events based around gothic Christmas, a submarine and a magic fairytale wood.

#MI1020 was no different, this time diners were to become trainee spies, completing several tasks to reach the secret “tasting facility” where dinner would be served.

Where did Microsoft come in?

Arriving at the initial meeting point (disguised as a tropical fish shop) the trainee agents were assembled into groups of 10 or twelve, and handed three Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphones. After 30 seconds training on using the phones, we were then sent out to locate the tasting facility.

Our team had to make calls, take photos and read text messages sent to our phones to complete the tasks.

Even after the tasting facility had been located and we were well into our dinner, the entertainment continued around us, making heavy use of the Nokia handsets.

What Microsoft got right

#MI1020 worked brilliantly on several levels, mostly because branding was kept to a bare minimum. The staff overseeing the event also avoided talk of Microsoft, Nokia or Windows Phone, and all exercises using the handsets were based around the old copywriting maxim ‘show not tell’. The idea was to get us, the diners, talking about the phones amongst ourselves and later, our friends and family at home or online.

By leaving the trainee agents to ‘play’ with the Lumia 1020, we also resolved many of the common misconceptions about Windows Mobile OS for ourselves:

  • Windows Mobile is actually very easy to use.
  • The camera on this particular handset really is amazing.
  • The apparent shortage of mobile apps for Windows Mobile doesn’t actually matter for most people’s needs.
  • Technically, the Lumia is a match for any iOS or Android device out there.

Taking a hands-off approach helped raise Microsoft in the estimations of the agents, creating plenty of positive PR – see the #MI1020 hashtag on Twitter and Facebook for more.

The high-quality food and entertainment provided by the Gingerline team was also extremely effective in making sure everyone had a good time. Throw in a free bar and Microsoft were onto a winner.

One problem

The only problem that the #MI1020 event encountered was the heavy prevalence of iPhone users in attendance. In my team of 12 agents, eleven were iPhone users and the twelfth had a Blackberry. We were all in agreement that the 41-megapixel camera on the Lumia was a major selling point, but that that alone would not be enough to persuade any of us to make the switch away from iOS.

No-noise marketing works

Ultimately MI1020 proved that avoiding talking about your brand can work. The trainee agents were impressed by the Lumia 1020 and they told other people about it. Better yet, we all came away with a much better impression of Microsoft and Windows Mobile, having dispelled many of the myths surrounding the platform for ourselves. The agents agreed that they would all recommend the 1020 to a friend or colleague who was heavily into smartphone photography.

And we also agreed that we would love to do another Gingerline event at some point in the future. Both food and entertainment was of the highest quality, well worth another visit at some point in the future.

So credit where credit is due – someone in the Microsoft marketing department still knows what they are doing.

Update – February 2014

Conjura, who helped execute #MI1020, have posted some incredible stats from the event, smashing every single marketing goal they were set. Someone really, really knows what they are doing. Check out their YouTube wrap-up video for some astounding metrics.