Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Deciphering the Microsoft ad campaign

Recently, I admitted my enjoyment for the latest Microsoft ad campaign with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.

Apparently, I'm in the minority.

And that's ok. I'm not here to tell anyone they're stupid or "don't get it." I just thought these commercials began to lay the groundwork for something original, fresh and interesting in the advertising world - a notion that isn't always embraced. Advertising rarely rises above mimicking others' success. Mostly because to try something different is to take a risk, and that risk can backfire.

Which is exactly what's happening with the Microsoft campaign.

Here's the first commercial, about the shoes...

Gates holds his own with Seinfeld, gets the ad's biggest laugh (being a cardmember of a shoe store) and comes across as a normal person. Not laugh out loud funny (and the computer as a cake is a misstep) but it gives us a yin and yang...both Gates and Seinfeld are different, but can easily coexist. That's a direct knock against the (now) classic Apple ads that pit "pcs" against "macs." Because, let's remember, Microsoft is a software company first and foremost.

Here's the next, commercial (the extended version):

Now it's the yin and yang trying to live in the real world (the house with the family), dealing with real world problems. Sure, they get thrown out, but they learn valuable lessons on along the way.

Ok, maybe that's bullshit. Maybe it's just supposed to be funny. Because it is. Take away all the weird undercurrents that come with Seinfeld and Gates and Microsoft, and it's funny on its own. And it's unique. And the ads have built up a buzz (not entirely positive) about what direction Microsoft will go.

But now, with a lot of backlash toward this first phase of the campaign including news that the campaign will be prematurely halted, it seems as though Microsoft bowed to the pressure of the negative response.

And that's too bad.

So now, what are we left with?

Ok, these are cute. They get right to the point, and are direct. Unfortunately, they also directly respond to the Apple ads, which suggests that those spots got under Microsoft's skin. Not so good.

Of course, they also look a lot like every other commercial montage that's supposed to feel inspirational out there, and that's a shame. In a word, they feel "quaint." So they had a great opportunity to really carve out a cool, unique vibe (much like Apple did) but got scared and decided to go the traditional route.

Fair enough.

But why? Why respond to Apple's commercials. In fact, why create ads that need the competitor's ads to make sense? Aren't you indirectly admitting that they're a major player now?

To me, that's the bigger risk than making an ad campaign that at first glance causes confusion. I'm certain that whatever ad agency was doing them had an ultimate answer and goal with the Seinfeld/ Gates ads.

Now, if it were me tasked with creating ads to promote Microsoft, I wouldn't respond to the Apple ads. I would join them. This is Microsoft! I'm typing this on Microsoft Word - for the Mac! Embrace the ads and say of course Apple is great, we've known that for a long time. We're the company that doesn't divide computers into categories, we're the company that embraces all technology. We're on the cutting edge of everyone's technological development!

To me, it's a no brainer.


Anonymous said...

Just leaving a little general applause. Agreed on all points.

The new set of ads for all its inspirational intent comes off as whining.

Goose said...

I like to compare the new ads to those University of Phoenix ads - not sure if that's what Microsoft was going for.

Actually, I think the UoP ads are better because the soundtrack works.