Windows 95 Takes the World by Storm

On August 24, 1995, Bill Gates officially released Windows 95, the user-friendly operating system that changed the way the world used personal computers.  And never has there been a launch party like this one.  Let’s take a look back at the $300 million dollar marketing campaign.

Microsoft is rumored to have paid the Rolling Stones up to 12 million dollars to use the song Start Me Up for the iconic ad campaign which highlighted the system’s start button and had the tag line:  Start exploring, start learning, start connecting, start organizing, start creating, and start playing. 

The song was also used at the launch event.  You have to check out this video of an awkward looking Bill Gates and Microsoft president Steve Ballmer dancing on stage as the Rolling Stones song is blasted on the sound system. 

The launch event was held at the sprawling Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington with up to 10 thousand people attending, including 500 media members and 2 thousand bigwigs from the computer industry.  It was like a circus with games, food kiosks and an 18 metre high ferris wheel. Comedian Jay Leno was there to entertain the crowd before the official launch.

When Bill Gates took the stage, over 70,000 people watched on satellite TV feeds as he explained the significance of Windows 95. 

The marketing campaign also included the release of a cyber sitcom that was part of an instructional video guide explaining the features of the new operating system.  Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry, better known then as Rachel and Chandler from Friends were the stars of the sitcom.

The day of the launch there were publicity stunts around the world.  The Empire State building was lit up with Microsoft’s colors.  It was the first time the landmark skyscraper was illuminated with the colors of a corporation.  In Toronto, a 90 metre Microsoft banner was hung from the CN Tower as a rescue expert rappelled down the side of the tower with a laptop in hand and there were free rides up the tower paid for by Microsoft.

Microsoft also paid for the printing run of The Times of London on August 24th.  The paper, which had Windows ads on the front page was given away for free that day marking the first time The Times was free in its 307-year history.  And in Sydney, musicians and dancers sailed on a giant barge.

The marketing campaign paid off with thousands of people lining up outside many electronics stores that held midnight launches.  Microsoft sold 5 million copies of Windows 95 in just 6 weeks.  The massive marketing campaign not only sold software, it made Microsoft a household name like General Motors and Ford and catapulted the awkward dancing Bill Gates into the international spotlight. 

For more stories from the 1990s, make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.

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