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September, 2008

Seinfeld + Gates = Microsoft

So a whole lot of people around Twitter and blogs seem to feel quite strongly about this new Microsoft spot starring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. After Twittering, "I thought the Seinfeld/Bill Gates Microsoft ad was kind of funny ... Am I really the only one on the planet that feels that way?" I got responses like "did nothing for me. more importantly, what did it do for Microsoft?" (that's almost perfectly representative of all but one response). So rather than trying to respond one-hundred-and-some-odd characters, I figured I'd write up a few thoughts.

First off, judging advertising, especially without any eye to the effect of the campaign on the business, is purely subjective. Like any taste, take my opinions with a grain of salt. I found it kind of amusing. I mean, the richest (or second richest or third richest, whatever he is now), making fun of himself in a commercial is funny to me.

With that said, though, I'd point to the strategic impetus for the spot. Microsoft doesn't need to build a brand, they need to rebuild one. There's no awareness problems with Microsoft, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone in the United States who hasn't heard of the company, or at least their most popular product: Windows. That moves this advertising into a new realm: Repositioning.

What are they repositioning themselves from? Well, funny you should ask, I just happened to have built a little tool that attempts to answer just that question. Here are Microsoft's top ten brand tags: microsoft, crap, computer, shit, crash, vista, bill gates, monopoly, pc and sucks. Now of course, these tags are a bit biased, as brand tags skews a little more geek (though not much) than the general public. But anyway, let's assume they're pretty accurate. We can throw out "microsoft", as that doesn't mean much (you could argue something about ubiquity I guess). Then there's the negative adjectives: crap, shit, crash and sucks (I'll leave monopoly out of that for the moment, since it's also a fact). Finally you've got some associations, specifically "vista" and "bill gates" (very interesting that Windows didn't make the top). Interestingly enough, for those who took less than 5 seconds to come up with their tag, the three most popular are computers, evil and windows (in alphabetical order).

Anyway, let me get to my point. I think there are a lot of problems at Microsoft, most of which can't be solved with advertising. For one, it won't solve the fact they put out a dud in Vista is something they're not going to fix with an ad campaign (OS 9 ring a bell??). However, what it can start to do is make people think about Microsoft in a slightly different way. It starts to soften the company around the edges. As I wrote in an IM to Alan earlier today, you can't just jump from super-nerd (Microsoft's perception) to cool guy (Apple) without at first rolling up your sleeves. The ad humanizes Microsoft by making one of the world's richest men seem like an every day guy.

If nothing else, though, all this debate has meant nothing but good things for Microsoft. People are arguing about their ads instead of talking about how much Vista sucks.

Also, not for nothing, but I find it very amusing that a bunch of advertising pundits who are always arguing for clients to take their word for it and not include all that messaging about this and that are complaining that this ad hasn't explained enough. But hey.

Anyway, this is all very much my opinion. Feel free to leave yours. Also, I don't plan on doing this very often.

Also, if this isn't interesting at all, feel free to ignore it. I kind of got more and more bored of writing it as I went along and might have half-assed it a bit towards the end. My apologies.

Update (9/5/08): Really smart post on the ad by Gartner's Andrew Frank (via David Card). He nails it with this: "Here's something I picked up a long time ago at an ad agency that worked for another large technology company: high-tech branding is not about end users or IT decision-makers, it's about the shareholders. And it's not about changing their minds about Microsoft's products, it's about changing their hearts and their instincts about what kind of company Microsoft is and where they're headed (and hence what kind of investment they are)."

September 5, 2008
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.