Microsoft Commercials Are Better Than You Think

I’m a PC

Okay, so I am not exactly a PC. I am typ­ing this on my PowerBook. Unless of course you con­sider a Mac to be a per­sonal com­puter. I do, but it has long been the deci­sion by American cul­ture that a PC is any­thing run­ning the Windows oper­at­ing sys­tem and a Mac is made by Apple and is the per­fect com­puter (PC?).

Anyhow, we’ll stick with pop­u­lar con­sen­sus. Linux also goes on PCs, but since I admin­is­ter a lot of Linux daily, I’ll talk about it some other time. Sorry fel­low penguin-heads.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few years, you’ve prob­a­bly seen the Get a Mac com­mer­cials for Apple, Inc. They fea­ture Justin Long as the Mac and the hilar­i­ous John Hodgman as the PC. The ad cam­paign is a direct attack on Windows mar­keted under the guise of a Mac’s ease of use.

Suffice it to say the Get a Mac ad cam­paign had been a suc­cess for Apple. The phrase “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” has worked its way into con­sumers heads, and it is an instant psy­cho­log­i­cal link to Apple. Not only that, but the ads have also become pop­u­lar enough to spawn par­o­dies.

Wherefore Art Thou, Microsoft?

The suc­cess of Apple’s ads began to make tech pun­dits won­der where Microsoft had gone. Why were they not fir­ing a return shot? Did they not care that their oper­at­ing sys­tems, par­tic­u­larly Windows Vista, were being smeared?

Microsoft reme­died their silence two weeks ago with the release of a new set of com­mer­cials star­ring the now retired Chairman, Bill Gates, and the come­dian Jerry Seinfeld. You can watch them below.

Shoe Circus

New Family

The ad spots left tech­nol­ogy media baf­fled, but the ads also stuck in our heads. There were arti­cles that blasted the com­mer­cials, arti­cles that claimed the com­mer­cials “bombed”, and a lot of tech­nol­ogy writ­ers, pod­cast­ers, and review­ers blath­er­ing on about Microsoft’s inep­ti­tude at cre­at­ing a decent mar­ket­ing campaign.

I Disagree

John Gruber, of Daring Fireball, has writ­ten a piece about the com­mer­cials. In it, he says,

As entertainment, the spots are good. Both are well-shot, well-cut, well-acted works of cinema. And they’re a radical departure for Microsoft insofar as they completely dropped the meaningless corporate doublespeak that’s been the hallmark of their advertising for the last decade.

But they “worked” only insofar as they said nothing and dropped the pretense of saying something. The spots said nothing and reveled in the nothingness.

I agree with John on the point that the com­mer­cials are of a high pro­duc­tion qual­ity. I began to think that he might be going all Apple fan­boy on us until he continued.

It’s not necessary for effective ads to directly sell anything. An effective ad simply has to make a point. Some of the best ads, rather than establishing facts or planting ideas, instead create a feeling. Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign didn’t tell you to buy sneakers. Apple’s “Think Different” didn’t even mention computers. But those campaigns created feelings about those brands that were so strong that they still feel new.

Good point. Those slo­gans have stuck so well in the pop­u­lar psy­che that they will for­ever be linked to those brands, even while the com­pa­nies try to for­mu­late new catch-phrases.

So where’s the dis­agree­ment? It turns out John did turn into an Apple fan­boy with a lit­tle clos­ing dig.

The reaction to the ads wasn’t bad, it was mixed (and/or baffled). But the spots were undeniably successful in one important regard: they were noticed and discussed. I suspect what sparked the panic is that the Seinfeld ads were too good, too accurate at capturing just what it is that Microsoft, as a company and brand, stands for: nothing.

At least he has always been hon­est about his Apple bias. I do not agree that the Microsoft brand stands for noth­ing. The most widely used desk­top oper­at­ing sys­tem and office pro­duc­tiv­ity suite does not seem like noth­ing to me. As a soft­ware com­pany goes, they have hugely suc­cess­ful flag­ship prod­ucts. Products that have made Microsoft a house­hold name — one that is used inter­change­ably with PC.

Microsoft does make periph­er­als, but does not make PCs. Apple even main­tains that strong brand­ing of PC = Microsoft in their Get a Mac com­mer­cials. Microsoft’s brand may be tar­nished, true. “Nothing” is not the word for it, though.

What Happened to Jerry?

It’s arguable whether the Seinfeld spots were yanked pre­ma­turely or whether the ad pro­gres­sion was planned this way. Matt Maroon makes a good case that the com­mer­cial dis­tri­b­u­tion was planned. Three new ads using the tagline “I’m a PC” have shown up on the airwaves.

You can view the new ads over on TechCrunch (or on YouTube at one, two, and three).

Matt wrote about the Seinfeld ads.

Microsoft’s main objective with these ads is to get back the mindshare that Apple has totally stolen from them in the last 5 years. They can’t do it by just splashing some ads up that say “Vista is good.” They’re targeting consumers (and businessmen, but businessmen with their consumer hat on watching a football game) so to get any attention at all they have to come out of left field, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Microsoft got our atten­tion with the Gates/Seinfeld spots. They got us talk­ing about it. They got their name on our lips and in our heads, and there’s been lit­tle talk of any­thing else since the ads were released. Now that we’re watch­ing, Microsoft is start­ing phase two with the I’m a PC commercials.

I believe that there may be some more Gates/Seinfeld ads yet to come. I also believe that the mar­keters for this cam­paign have made one big mis­take. It has noth­ing to do with ads that are con­fus­ing. It has noth­ing to do with using a big name come­dian and the founder of Microsoft in minia­ture sitcoms.

The mis­take is using the phrase “I’m a PC” for the sec­ond wave of the cam­paign. Apple has already used this to great effect as part of their Get a Mac cam­paign, and I can­not help but think of Apple and John Hodgman’s por­trayal of PC every time I hear that phrase.

So it is not that Microsoft has a bad cam­paign on their hands. They sim­ply picked the wrong slo­gan for it, and that is a good rea­son to go back to the draw­ing board.