Microsoft Ads Are Genius

September 12th, 2008

Lately we’ve been treated to the introduction of a couple new ads from Microsoft, featuring Jerry Seinfeld:

Windows Ads

The prevailing thoughts on the internet seem to be that these ads are ridiculous, that they make no salient point, that they are barely funny, and that they are a pathetic, misguided attempt by Microsoft to rekindle affection from a public that has grown quite accustomed to viewing the company as a stodgy old curmudgeon.

I think these ads are genius. Or if not genius, as close to genius as Microsoft could ever dream of coming. If I was one of Microsoft’s competitors, I might not be quivering in my boots quite yet, but I’d be thinking, “my god, I am wearing boots!”

Most critics of these ads point out, quite rightly, that the message doesn’t ask viewers to buy anything. If an ad doesn’t ask you to buy something, surely it’s a failure. I find this assessment flawed by default. Come on, people. Surely you, as sophisticated citizens of the internet, can appreciate that advertising is an art more than a science. If you want to criticize these ads, come up with something deeper than their failure to clearly condense into 30 seconds what purchasing action a consumer should take!

A more savvy viewer will notice that these ads are not meant to influence the immediate buying patterns of viewers, but instead to alter the long-term impression of the company that develops and markets the world’s leading desktop computer operating system. The company, Microsoft, is at once desperate to change your impression of it, but at the same time in no particular hurry to do so.

Imagine yourself in Microsoft’s position. you’ve got some 90% of the market share for computer operating systems, and you’re facing increasingly negative reports about the public’s impression of your place in the world. You’re a cold, hard company. You’re not very much fun. You don’t care about innovation. You’re a sleeper in a dancer’s universe. You’ve got no soul. You’re a plain old, boring, damn it all ridiculous stick in the mud. Microsoft, you suck.

If you’re Microsoft, and you’ve grown tired of these assessments, you wouldn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that owning 90% of the market and having a bajillion dollars … is a pretty good place to start from, in turning around your public image.

So begins the patient public image reform. When rumors started swirling about Microsoft enlisting Jerry Seinfeld to help sell its wares, the reaction was appropriately cynical. Come on, Microsoft. It’s going to take more to spin Windows than asking last decade’s comics to stand up for it.

But the ads that have actually come out, so far, are nothing like what anybody might have expected. They are so random, indeed so touchy-feely, that the universal reaction among the “smart-asses” I know, is to declare them ridiculous, not-funny, and utter failures.

These people are expecting something cliche from Microsoft, and instead the company has handed them a revolution. While Seinfeld’s collaboration with Microsoft has been widely heralded as a long-overdue reaction to Apple’s Mac/PC ads, Microsoft has instead taken a completely different path. And people can’t stand it.

I propose that Microsoft’s ads, with their mysterious yet evocative plot, are the most creative and purposeful ads ever to come out of the company. While devoted Apple fans might relish in declaring them an utter failure, I make the opposite assessment. These ads are the last best hope Microsoft has at erecting a dam in the face of a tidal shift towards Apple. Microsoft’s relative silence over the past few years has damaged the company. While Apple has charged the public’s mindset with compelling 30-second Mac/PC aphorisms, Microsoft sits idly by, taking the punches and sucking up the pain of each landed blow.

With these first ads from the Seinfeld era of Microsoft marketing, we see a company that is no longer simply spittling up blood, but instead spraying it in the face of its opponent. If Apple has been wondering when the competition will strike back, the answer is now. With a vengeance, albeit a somewhat mysterious one.

People ask what the point of Microsoft’s ad campaign is. What are they trying to convince us of? What do they want us to buy. Who are they trying to fool? If you have to ask, then you won’t be convinced. Microsoft already controls 90% of the market, and only a subset of the other 10% cares to call into question the motives or quality of these latest ads. The very fact that Microsoft can dance at all will be enough to sell them as belle of the ball to most who look on. So if you think the ads suck, don’t worry, you’re not the target audience. Laugh away!

59 Responses to “Microsoft Ads Are Genius”

  1. Rob Kouwenberg Says:

    Hi !

    I don’t know about all the other comments, but hey, am I the only one to fall asleep almost twice ? Single highlight was bill’s clowns club member card.

    What’s the point of this ? To bore everyone to death ? Oh my ! There was a giraffe in it ..

    Seinfeld is definitely the smartest of all people involved, he at least gets paid for his performance. Still I don’t get the marketing message .. ?! Bored ? Be like Bill perhaps ? Must be, for not once did he shift his glasses (his tic)..

  2. Dallas Hockley Says:

    I don’t dispute that there’s some spark of interesting creativity in the ads. I think the one thing that actually remains completely true to form unfortunately is that Microsoft is treating their reputation and perception as a marketing problem. I’m afraid that it’s beyond that point in my opinion, and it’s a situation that they need to fulfill needs and desires with quality products at good prices that just work. They need to take all the brains and capability and do at least a bit of what Apple does. Or even a bit of what Google does.

    Today’s public, and especially those on the web that are crawling all over these ads. are getting too savvy with their hard-earned dollars to just go buy something or believe something through marketing effect the way they used to. Trusted brands had successful marketing campaigns. Untrusted ones had additional noise.

    I’d rank the Mojave experiment ads as being closer to the point. Get some opinions on Vista not sucking horridly, and with a scientific basis as the storyline. That has a chance of shifting some meaningful opinion. Put together products and quality, useful innovation with the Seinfeld series, and it may have a good effect. Without that, and it’s just additional noise in my opinion.

  3. DavidPhillipOster Says:

    The Mojave experiment ads had a point: “We lie to our customers because we think you are stupid, and we are proud of it.”

    The Seinfeld ads are more like those Enron ads from the dotCom era (metalman ask why http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ8XM7JVpYw : Those incomprehensible ads of a guy in a tin suit strutting around in various foreign countries.

    The message here is that a marketing company that is good at marketing itself has found a corporation with more money than sense.

  4. Matt Says:

    “A more savvy viewer will notice that these ads are not meant to influence the immediate buying patterns of viewers, but instead to alter the long-term impression of the company that develops and markets the world’s leading desktop computer operating system. ”

    This is definitely true, but I’m already sick of hearing about it in Web postings about the MS ads.

    Why? Because this practice – not directly or immediately trying to influence purchasing decisions – isn’t new or different (hasn’t been for decades), and the problem with the MS ads is that they’re just not good ads, even for this “indirect” purpose.

  5. Dallas Hockley Says:

    DavidPhillipOster –> Good point! I had not thought (somewhat cynically, no offence) along the stupid/misleading line. That puts it in another light. :-) Thanks for that point of view.

    I still think the most brilliant illustration of Microsoft marketing is the “If the iPod packaging was done by Microsoft” movie. It’s on YouTube and elsewhere. Really has a good illustration of design by committee. ;-)

  6. Ashly Says:

    I find that I am now looking forward to the “next episode” from Microsoft, and to seeing where Bill and Jerry go next. I want the narrative to keep unfolding, to move forward. Isn’t that clever: I suddenly am willing to see Microsoft as part of the future, instead of the bothersome, boring, aggressive, nasty, controlling, frustrating, clunky, commodity of the past.

    http://www.unboundedition.com/content/view/7978/50/

  7. Edward Miller Says:

    I don’t know if I’d use the term Genius to describe the new MS ads.

    I think the Apple Mac Genius ad where they say go ahead bring in your windows computer and we’ll help you move your files over to you new Mac.

    That’s the last reason that most people don’t switch. (That and some unknown uncertainty of working with a new operating system)

    Mac Genius.

  8. Roger Poole Says:

    I just look at the fact that the entire run of Seinfeld had a Mac sitting in the corner on the desk near the window.

    And I think:
    1. Someone didn’t do their advertising research.
    2. Jerry picked up a lot of cash for someone that had always identified as a mac user.
    3. MS got taken because they didn’t know how to do an ad campaign.

    Credibility blown.

    On the other hand they’re funny and well scripted.

  9. Rebecca Says:

    well spoken :) the ads are simply great!

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