For over a decade, Apple (AAPL) has been the leader of technological cool, with its MacBooks, iPods, and iPhones preferred by the trendsetting creative class. In contrast, Microsoft (MSFT), once the red-hot brand in the '90s, was the stodgy competitor whose products were only highly valued in the enterprise world, where utility trumped aesthetics.
However, the Bill Gates-founded company might have gotten an image boost in the past year thanks in large part to its recent heavy advertising spending to promote its new Surface tablets.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, some 50% of 853 18- to 29-year-old respondents surveyed said that Microsoft is cooler today compared to one or two years ago.
Josh Johnson, a 24-year-old gaming fan, was someone whose impression of Microsoft has improved because of its consumer-oriented Window 8 products.
"It's more customizable, and not as rigid as an Apple phone, where you have to buy all the products from Apple," Johnson told Reuters. "If you want a ringtone, you don't have to pay iTunes."
A Surface product placement on Arrow. Source: Neowin.net
"I know Apple is the cool, hip brand right now, but if Microsoft keeps coming out with new tech, I'm sure it'll be back soon," Johnson added.
Beside improving its image in the eyes of young adults, Microsoft has also become a desirable brand among teenagers these days. A January report from Buzz Marketing Group, an agency that specializes in youth marketing, found that teenagers now find Apple pass� and prefer Microsoft and Samsung (SSNLF) instead.
"Teens are telling us Apple is done," Buzz Marketing Group's Tina Wells told Forbes. "Apple has done a great job of embracing Gen X and older [Millennials], but I don't think they are connecting with Millennial kids. [They're] all about Surface tablets/laptops and [the Samsung] Galaxy."
Indeed, powered by the increasing popularity of Samsung's Galaxy smartphones and tablets, which have become formidable rivals to Apple's market-leading product, Google's (GOOG) Android was crowned the coolest tech brand in the Reuters/Ipsos survey, receiving a 70% score.
(See also: Riding the Korean Wave: How K-Pop Stars Have Helped Lift Samsung to the Top in Asia.)
Of course, Apple has no reason to despair. According to the same survey, 60% of respondents thought that the Cupertino, California-based company is cooler now than ever.
Since the launch of the Surface, Microsoft has promoted its tablets aggressively to younger demographics, buying product placements on CW's (CBS) youth-oriented TV series such as The Vampire Diaries, Arrow, and Gossip Girl.
(See also: Has Apple Fallen Out of Favor in the World of Product Placements?)
While this strategy may have paid off in terms of raising product awareness and brand likeability, it's unclear if the Surface tablets have sold well, with Microsoft so far refusing to release concrete sales figures. There have been reports in the tech blogosphere that customers have been unable to get their hands on the tablets, but Minyanville's tech columnist Michael Comeau points out that "a sell-out of a product isn't necessarily a reason to jump for joy, simply because they can be artificially created through limited supply."
"The question I'll pose to you is this: If the Surface Pro was selling in huge numbers, would the company not be announcing it to the world?" questioned Comeau. "So until Microsoft gives us some hard data, remain skeptical regarding how sales are shaping up out in the real world."
(See also: If the Microsoft Surface Pro Were a Monster Hit, We'd Know It.)
Still, it bodes well for Microsoft's long-term plans that teenagers find its products cool. Teenagers today will become working adults with purchasing power tomorrow, after all.
In the meantime, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is realistic about his sales target for the Surface.
"Surface is a real business. In an environment in which there's 350 million PCs sold, I don't think Surface is going to dominate volume, but it's a real business," he said this week in an interview with MIT Technology Review.