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