★ 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.