From the Gmail Man, who peeks into people's private mail, to the VMware salesman stuck in the '70s, Microsoft's marketing campaigns have become quite pointed in the past year.

Now the company is launching another such campaign: "Smoked by Windows Phone," a series of online ads challenging those who use iPhones, Android phones or other mobile devices to beat the speed of a Windows Phone in doing a browser search, sharing with their social network or shooting and posting a photo.

The 12 different digital ads featuring the challenge will run on tech sites as well as the Windows Phone Facebook page through the beginning of April.

Also on the Facebook page will be video footage from the original "Smoked by Windows Phone" challenge, which took place at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. There, at the Microsoft booth, attendees participated in speed challenges, winning $100 if their smartphone beat the Windows Phone.

The final tally for Windows Phone: 30 wins, three losses, one tie.

That original challenge and the online campaign launching this week are examples of a funnier, sharper, more direct and aggressive -- and sometimes snarkier -- approach to marketing for the software giant generally known for more earnest, wholesome ads. It could even be seen as the scrappy move of an underdog -- which Microsoft is, in search and mobile, if such a thing could be said of a company that logged nearly $70 billion in revenue and $23 billion in profit in the past fiscal year.

"Over the last year, one of the things that we've actually done is say: 'We're not going to sit on the sidelines when our competitors do things that we disagree with,'" said Frank Shaw, corporate vice president of corporate communications at Microsoft. "We're going to make sure that we tell our story, with all the assets that we have."

Last summer at an internal conference, Microsoft showed a Gmail Man spoof video, in which a mailman dubbed Gmail Man looks into your private mail ("he peeks at every subject in un-real time"). The video, designed to tout Microsoft's Office 365, was placed on Microsoft's YouTube channel this month as Google began getting flak for changes in its privacy policy and search methods.

In August, Microsoft released a video spoofing competitor VMware, saying the Palo Alto, Calif., company's emphasis on virtualization technology was stuck in the past.

Shaw disagrees with the characterization of the approach as sometimes "snarky." It's all about communicating with audiences directly, he said, which these days calls for online ads, blog posts, social media, videos and infographics, as well as print and television ads.