And I'm an Advertising Campaign

by Michael Camilleri

There are other things that I planned to write about but since two of the great loves of my life (advertising and technology) came together recently it seems as if I’m being called. I refer to Microsoft’s ‘Life Without Walls’ attempt to rebrand Windows and my reaction to it. (Seriously? That’s the name of your campaign?) For those who came in late…

The campaign began with two ads featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. In the ads Gates and Seinfeld engaged in comic banter while talking about almost everything except Windows. See the first ad here and the second one here. A number of people in the tech blogosphere opined that they didn’t get the whole thing. Michael Arrington:

I’m starting to feel bad for Microsoft PR, who’ve been tasked with defending these Microsoft ads featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. I just didn’t connect with the first ad, which barely mentioned Microsoft and didn’t do much to tell me why I should like their products in a competitive market. The second ad, which aired tonight, was more of the same.

There were of course defenders of the campaign. Mathew Ingram:

I made a marketing expert friend of mine mad recently when she said that the marketing professionals she knew didn’t like the original ad — and thought Microsoft was getting taken to the cleaners by its ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky — because it was a dumb idea, or at least not a smart one. I tried to make the point that I don’t think Microsoft cares whether she and her marketing colleagues think the campaign is “smart” or not. They aren’t the target market any more than Mike Arrington is. I think whoever put these together is really just trying to humanize a giant company, and that’s a tough assignment.

The debate continued with the defenders claiming the ads were enjoyable diversions and the detractors pointing out that the goal of advertising is to sell. Then, just when the whole thing was starting to look Mexican standoffish, Microsoft announced there would be no more Seinfeld ads. Way to go, Redmond! Flame war averted!

You see it was all part of the plan, Microsoft PR assured us. This was just Phase 1 and the goal of Phase 1 was to start a conversation (everyone in marketing, please give us back that word). With that accomplished it was time to move on to Phase 2. Those of us not born yesterday were a little sceptical. John Gruber:

And dropping these ads is a panicked reaction. Let’s not pretend it makes any sense that the Seinfeld spots were planned as a two-episode teaser all along. No one signs Jerry Seinfeld for $10 million in a much-heralded deal to make just two spots that only run for a grand total of two weeks. The most telling fact is that the firm that reached out to the media yesterday to explain that this sudden shift was supposedly the plan all along was not Crispin Porter, the advertising agency producing the campaign, but Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s PR firm. Advertising campaigns which are going according to plan do not need PR firms to assert such.

So what’s Phase 2? Well, you know those ads from Apple where Justin Long pretends to be a Mac and John Hodgman a PC? Microsoft does and they think they’re unfair to people that use Windows computers. In an attempt to rectify the stereotype that people who use PCs all look like John Hodgman they’ve spliced together a lot of people who don’t look like John Hodgman (and one guy who eerily does).

In the interests of full disclosure, I was firmly in the camp of people who thought the initial advertisements were a failure. To be clear, I enjoyed them. Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld have real chemistry and if they return I’ll be more than happy to watch them get up to further hijinks. But advertisements are about selling things and these ads sold nothing: neither the Windows operating system nor the Windows brand.

Unfortunately, Phase 2 isn’t much better. It doesn’t take quite as long to sell you nothing but at the end of the day all Microsoft does in the ad is communicate to me that lots of people use Windows.

Memo to Microsoft: I already know this.

I am aware that Windows is ginormously successful. Everyone is aware Windows is ginormously successful. But you’re not selling cigarettes in the 1950s. You need to do something a little more sophisticated than argue a billion people can’t be wrong. You need to argue you product is reliable/interoperable/safe/fun/something. You need to argue that I want to use your product. (You cannot simply add sharks.)

Only today at work I watched some colleagues discover to their dismay that the printer they had just purchased didn’t work with their shiny MacBook Pro. This is not an uncommon occurrence and Microsoft’s entire campaign could be based around experiences similar to this. It is not impossible to sell the idea that Windows gets things done. Hey, that could even be the slogan! Windows: Get Things Done. It’s a simple message that explains why you want to use Windows (so you can get on with your life) while making the veiled accusation that competing products (read: Macs) are all about style with little substance to back it all up.

Maybe that’s Phase 3.