Does Linux Need a $300 Million Ad Campaign?

Microsoft is now spending $300 million to counter Apple's "I'm a Mac" ads. Does Linux need its own ad campaign?

It has been fascinating to see Microsoft roll out its (can you believe it!!) $300 million ad campaign, the one that counters the now famous and effective “I’m a Mac” ads. With those ads, the Apple folks have done a great job of defining a narrative for Microsoft and, in the parlance of advertising, affecting their brand image. The top dog at Microsoft for managing the brand image of Windows said “[Apple has] made a caricature out of the PC.” Given the stakes in the marketplace, Microsoft had little choice but to invest a ton of resources and get their own message out into the public realm.

You see the same dynamic in the political realm, too. It takes a ton of money just to get the most basic message distributed to the public – thus far the presidential candidates have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and they will likely top a billion dollars by the end of the campaign. The third-party candidates may certainly have interesting messages, but without the money, they’re dead in the water.

Given all of this tossing of hundreds of millions of dollars by Microsoft and Apple, what does this mean for the fate of our dear Linux operating system? Can we grow and gain market share without multiple $300 million ad campaigns? It’s an interesting question.

While individual companies such as IBM, HP, Red Had and Novell have all done their share of marketing and advertising to promote their Linux-powered wares, most of it has been targeted at the corporate user. These efforts have done much to polish Linux’s image as a stable, powerful and reliable option for the enterprise.

Unfortunately none of these companies is in a position to drive adoption on the desktop. It just isn’t their main focus. Meanwhile, the Mandrivas, Canonical-Ubuntus and Linspires of the world – the companies who are more desktop focused – simply don’t have $300 million to throw around, even as a group. In addition, the Linux Foundation doesn’t currently see big ad campaigns as part of its mission. Linux is simply too decentralized and doesn’t have the same profit motive behind it.

It has been interesting to see attempts to combat this decentralization, however. Perhaps the most interesting one I've seen was when a group of Linux enthusiasts attempted to get a Linux penguin onto a race car at the Indy 500. They solicited donations and did OK but fell short of the goal. While fun and interesting, the failure adequately illustrates Linux’s weakness when it comes to promotional opportunities.

But is it a weakness? Perhaps with every Linux provider doing their own thing with a focus on guerilla tactics is sufficient to keep it growing and clawing desktop market share away from Windows. Look how far we’ve come in such a short time, and we are growing, though slowly. We simply have to be patient and accept the fact that Linux won’t rival Windows on the desktop (i.e. in market share) for a very long time.

Plus, we also have the advantage of a more sympathetic press. Admittedly, mainstream journalists often don’t know what to do with Linux due to ignorance and are often too quick to categorize it as for geeks only. Nevertheless, Linux’s ethos characterized by sharing, volunteerism and merit will always draw warm feelings from journalists. We just need them to be more informed so that they can write about us more effectively. That task is probably more important than a big ad campaign.

Finally, people are simply curious about Linux, and we need to focus on satisfying that curiosity through an informed press corps.

So, now that I’ve done my brain dump, I feel better and I am more sure of something.

“I’m Linux. And I don’t need your stinkin’ $300 million ad campaigns.”


James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.


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I've been thinking about

Anonymous's picture

I've been thinking about this for a while, and i have come up with a counter-advert that amused me, and would be cheap to make:

White background: work desk, PC, MAC, a hd TV, a phone, two men come in from the wings.

Guy who looks like PC - sits in front of the Mac says "Hi I'm a MAC - and i run Linux"
Guy who looks like MAC - sits in front of the PC says "and I'm a PC - and I run Linux"
Zoom out to a satellite floating in space - "Hey, i'm a NASA Research satellite and i run Linux Too!".
Zoom to other things around the world:
The Interenet - i'm 70% linux
Large Hadron collier
Process control System(s)
Mobile phone(s)
A DVD player /Media player

Extended version goes back to MAC/PC:
MAC - I use Linux because it has a all the software i need for my editing and education. Its free and it runs on 300 different platforms, like this old unsupported - but still great MAC laptop here."
PC - "I use Linux in my business. Not only is it hardedned against viruses and almost crash-proof, it gives me much more control over the software deployed in my organisation. I also use it for my web-servers - after all most of the internet - including Google and Amazon run their web business on Linux"


sn's picture

Troll, having problems with your Windows box? If not then why are you hanging out in a Linux Forum?

We've already started the campaign

loyeyoung's picture

"At IYCC, we don't do Windows. And YOU shouldn't either!"

That's how I end the radio promo spot for my company, Isaac & Young Computer Company.

Have a listen.

Happy Trails,

Loye Young
Isaac & Young Computer Company
Laredo, Texas

Loye Young
Isaac & Young Computer Company
Laredo, Texas

*Yawn* That's very

derChef's picture

*Yawn* That's very interesting, I'm sure your Linux Zealot campaign will be very effective.

What about cross-promotion?

Dox96's picture

The most effective way of advertising, which wouldn't cost anything, would be for open source projects to cross-promote each other. For example, Firefox enjoys a 20% share of the browser market. Why couldn't Mozilla cross-promote a non-competing product, say, on its site? And vice-versa. That way, people who have already enjoyed the advantage of open source software would be more easily directed to more. Linux is just one piece of the whole after all.

I think this would be far more effective than putting a penguin on a racing car. And far, far, far cheaper.

I don’t want to be the

JanekMZ's picture

I don’t want to be the devil’s advocate, but Linux having more market share than Windows might be bad. Everyone knows that Linux is not immune to viruses and warms, no OS is. We see less viruses for Linux cause there is smaller return on investment for hackers; small % use Linux. But if Linux is the majority, say 60%, then more hackers/thieves will write more viruses for Linux to steal our personal data. And using Linux does not make you smart, we’ll end up with clueless guys/galls using Linux that will still do dumb stuff on the web that will cause security breaches. Yes, Linux is more secure than Windows but it still can be hacked. What we need is to educate people that just because you are safe and sound inside your home behind locked doors when surfing doesn’t mean that you are safe and secure in the internet world.

On the positive note. It would be nice to have more major software companies support Linux. It would be nice to have: better drivers, more good full blown video games, better dynamic websites integration.

“I’m a Linux”

"I'm a PC"

Airdrik's picture

And I run Linux!!!!

That $300 million figure sounds familiar

HawaiiWebDev's picture

Did anybody notice how similar the $300 million figure is to linux's "Total Estimated Cost to Develop" ($267,961,839)

Word of Mouth

OldMarine's picture

As long as Linux a tracks the people that are really good at computers we "don't need no stinking" campaign.

let's try ourselves

ubuntu fan's picture

I think this story just inpires me an I'm sure many others to try making a contest amongst ourselves, let's see who can come up with the most unique or most crazy way for free linux publicity. Let's see who can sneak a linux bumper sticker onto some tv commercial, or let's try to stick one on Arnold "The Governator" on his personal limo, let's try to get into the Oprah tv studio audience, and then we can flash an "I Love Linux" coffee mug to the camera.
I think we can have fun inventing our own free ad campaign.

That's the perfect metaphor

derChef's picture

That's the perfect metaphor for Linux itself: foist it upon unsuspecting people!

some concerns

Anonymous's picture

1) M$ really spent $300m ???????
2) Maybe Mac should nowadays be the real enemy !!
3) M$ insists in over count Win users
4) I don't know
5) Who cares about M$ spent so much money on marketing campaign. The need to convince people to buy(worst) something they could get better for free
6) They at least should be a funny campaign. Be honest Uncle Bill & Sainfied were to boooooored

heheheh :)

maybe it would be good. if

Anonymous's picture

maybe it would be good. if you pay :-P

awareness campaign...not just semantics

helios's picture

Anecdotally, I submit that the proof that Linux does not need an ad campaign....

That is no where near "proof" that we are known as a viable alternative to the MS desktop. I worked tech support for years and I have seen the empirical evidence that people indeed do not know they have a choice. It is getting better? Yeah, but as the author states, it's going to take another generation for FOSS to ultimately prevail.

A correction and an observation if you will allow me. The project to get the Tux penguin logo on the Indy car was called Tux 500. Linux Journal offered to cover it and then reneged. Had they followed through, they'd have known that the project did ultimately succeed. The logo did appear on the nose of the car but James is right, we did not come anywhere near close enough for full sponsorship. We did however raise the amount needed for affiliate sponsorship and that sponsorship was covered by 112 US newspapers, a handful in Europe and even a couple of magazines, The Sporting News to name one in particular. That doesn't take into consideration the hundreds of websites that covered it during the 30 days prior to the race. The problem here is that without a viable dollar amount to track "sales", there is absolutely no way to measure return on investment.

Projects such as Lindependence 2008 have been a success to this point. When you can get an entire town to consider switching to Linux and get media coverage to boot, you've accomplished something. Lindenpendece 2008 did not stop in Felton California, it now has legs in Portland Oregon and the event takes place This coming Saturday at TouchStone Technology in Beaverton. I will be there to help with the nuts and bolts of the event.

I know a bit about each project mentioned, I co-founded each one of them, so I am more than qualified to speak a bit about the marketing aspect of Linux on the desktop. We are 40 million weak as a user-base. Some refer to us as the Linux Community but in reality we are not a community at all. We are a large group of warring villages that use the vast real estate of cyber space to slash each other to pieces.

We could easily match that 300 million if we chose to...but a house divided against itself...


I feel that average users probably arent ready

Squichie's picture

I often wish linux would have a larger share, but the share that Linux has now, fits its prowess. Linux, for the most part, is populated by intellectuals, programmers/admin, computer enthusiasts, opensource zealots, entrepreneurs, and overall, a group of friendly, optimistic, and community oriented individuals.
Bringing the average user to Linux... sometimes I cringe, knowing a few average users myself. My boss for instance, takes a look at the desktop, and if he doesnt see a start bar when he turns on one of our computers, he gets angry. Hes not stupid, just old fashioned. He's the same person who when I switched the xp start bar to be on the top, and not the bottom, he thought I installed Linux on it. To be perfectly honest, people who are eternally old fashioned can keep windows, as they only tend to bother support with unreasonable anger, and problems which can be solved using common sense.
Coffee drinking Yuppies can keep their macs as well, as I don't think Linux should be dumbing down a computer for anyone. I just wish Mac would stop feeding on opensource, and actually start contributing something.
I enjoy the fact that Linux users are profound and above average people.

race car

Anonymous's picture

"Perhaps the most interesting one I've seen was when a group of Linux enthusiasts attempted to get a Linux penguin onto a race car at the Indy 500. They solicited donations and did OK but fell short of the goal."

Didn't they get it on the race car but it ended up crashing? I seem to remember jokes about how Linux never crashes.

I thought Microsoft's $300M

Anonymous's picture

I thought Microsoft's $300M advertisement was for Linux... It certainly wasn't selling MS product. Why should we anyone have to advertise when the competition is its own worst enemy?

I love the new MS comercials

Norm's picture

Just my $0.02 worth, but I think those commercials are great and they are spot on accurate. Most Americans use Microsoft and the vast majority are not cappuccino sipping, Emo, trendy types that Microsoft fits the bill for. When I first saw the commercial I actually cheered a bit for Microsoft because I always hated those dam Mac commercials.

And to address the headline of the article, No, we have no need for an ad campaign like that. People somehow forget Linux is not a company , it's a movement and a paradigm shift. You don't need to advertise for that it has caught on well enough on it's own.

Anecdotally, I submit that the proof that Linux does not need an ad campaign. My brother called me three weeks ago and said "Can you install that Ubuntu thing on my computer. I'm tired of Microsoft."

My brother is about as Joe Average as they come when it comes to computers.

My brother called me three

derChef's picture

My brother called me three weeks ago and said "Can you install that Ubuntu thing on my computer. I'm tired of Microsoft."

Then I'm sure he called you two and a half weeks ago and asked you why none of his software works, why doesn't he have working wireless or sound, etc.