Microsoft Advertising Campaigns


I’m a bit late to this story update, but Charles Arthur in The Guardian has been writing about the internet-famous adverts for Microsoft which feature Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.

Now, I only have to look at Jerry Seinfeld to start thinking of things that make me laugh. Just as some people recite Monty Python sketches from 40 years ago, my head is full of Seinfeld catch phrases such as, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” and “Serenity Now!” The headline in the Guardian story, “I’m out!” ought to raise a chuckle in any Seinfeld fan.

On the other hand, anyone who knows me knows that I hate the MS Windows operating system, which I have always thought an affront to good taste and functionality. I also dislike Windows software like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint: there’s always a better way.

So, these ads. The first one, set in a shoe shop, was self-consciously wacky. I quite liked it, because I like Seinfeld, and if there’s anyone who can make a virtue of acting with Bill Gates, it’s him. The second one, now, “New Family” is truly excellent. I watched it several times. I really like that strange little world they created there, in which Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates try to get in touch with reality by moving in with a regular family. It’s still trying very hard to be wacky, but it does work.

The ads also look absolutely fabulous if you watch them on the Microsoft web site.

But when Bill Gates says, at the family dinner table, “Didn’t we have this yesterday?” and Seinfeld mutters, “Put some cheese on it,” I can’t help thinking that this is a little too close to what Microsoft are trying to do with this advertising campaign. Like any great dictatorship, they’re less interested in changing the product/message than they are in banging on about it until everyone submits. It really is the same old Microsoft (Vista is still astonishingly unpopular, upgraded versions of Office won’t play nicely with older versions etc.), and these ads are, well, cheesy.

I’m also not sure why I’m seeing so much of Bill Gates since he supposedly retired. This is like Tony Blair turning up at the Labour conference. It’s time to move on, really, it is.

But the fatal error in these campaigns is that they’ve dropped them already and moved on to other things, one of which is the “I’m a PC” video you can also see on the MS site.

The problem here is that “I’m a PC” refers specifically to the Apple marketing campaign (which in the UK was acted by comedians Mitchell and Webb). By responding to this campaign, Microsoft are effectively admitting that Apple had a point. It’s defensive, and a great example of protesting too much. You’re in danger, with a campaign like that, of inviting people to make the same comparison that Apple were asking them to make – and getting the same answer.

Still, I really did enjoy the Gates/Seinfeld double act.