September 20, 2008

Microsoft is Scoring Big With Gates, Seinfeld Comeback Ad


A few weeks ago, I lambasted Microsoft for an awful advertising campaign for Windows Vista called The Mojave Experiment. The Mojave Experiment demoed a "new" version of Windows dubbed Mojave to a group of off-the-street test subjects. The big revelation was that Mojave wasn't a new version of Windows but really today's Windows Vista.

The campaign failed because it started off by reaffirming that there was a negative connotation around Vista and Microsoft and trying to make the customer feel ignorant for thinking that way. Kind of like when you are really eating the Pizza Hut pasta at the fancy Italian joint.

Microsoft is back with a new $300 million ad campaign that stars Jerry Seinfeld and a semiretired Bill Gates. Microsoft lobbed $10 million of that budget to Seinfeld to appear in the ads, and after seeing the first two spots, I think the campaign is brilliant.

The first ad follows Seinfeld and Gates discount shopping at the Shoe Circus. The second ad is a continuation of "Bill & Jerry's Excellent Adventure" as they live with a family to try to connect with "real people."

Microsoft never has had a good ad campaign per se. The closest to interesting and engaging was the 1995 "Start Me Up" campaign, but while Apple has been bashing Windows for years with its Mac versus PC spots, Microsoft has offered up "People Powered" and "Your Potential. Our Passion." Not exactly memorable.

Much like Seinfeld's television show, the new ads really are about nothing. Unlike previous failed campaigns, these ads are designed to leave an enduring impression of the company with viewers rather than getting them off the couch and into a Best Buy to purchase a new piece of software. Windows is already

on 90 percent of the computers shipping today, so there is no real reason to try to push it to the remaining 10 percent.

Instead, Microsoft is wisely using these ads to try to repair the damaged image of Microsoft as a whole. Between the troubled Vista launch and Apple attacks, Microsoft is developing a set of engaging mini-episodes featuring one of the world's most popular comics with the public face of Microsoft: Bill Gates.

If the advertisements resonate a positive impression of Microsoft in the viewer's mind, the campaign can be deemed a success. More than selling extra licenses of Windows, the company needs to elminate the "have to" feeling of purchasing a PC and change it to a "want to." Buying a new PC shouldn't evoke the same reaction as purchasing an insurance policy.

I gauge the quality of an advertisement on whether I will stop fast forwarding through them on my TiVo. I almost always stop to watch the Mac versus PC spots, and I am now stopping to watch the Seinfeld-Microsoft ads because they aren't the typical product- pushing garbage today's ad agencies are selling. Much as Apple did years ago, Microsoft finally is thinking differently.

Justin Williams is a local blogger and the owner of Second Gear, a local Web and software development firm. He can be reached at [email protected]

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