Daniel Eran Dilger
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Microsoft’s $300 million ad campaign tumbles with new PC ads

Prince McLean, AppleInsider
Microsoft’s bizarre campaign to turn $300,000,000 into a marketing message took an even stranger turn Thursday with the airing of the company’s latest television commercial: “I’m a PC.”

Microsoft’s $300 million ad campaign tumbles with new PC ads

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I’m a PC too… touché

What began as an attempt to associate Microsoft with a smart and comic social relevance turned mean and condescending before being placed on hold indefinitely and replaced by a more defensive series of ads (below) that actually draw attention to Apple by referencing its Get a Mac campaign.

The Mojave Experiment

The first element of Microsoft’s effort was the Mojave Experiment, which portrayed the problems of Windows Vista as being a big misunderstanding.

Critics presented that the Mojave ads seemed to portray customers as stupid while delivering a controlled demonstration that tried to deny Vista’s widely reported issues rather than answer them with an straightforwardly apologetic solution.

The ads about nothing

Just as Mojave began running into widespread criticism, Microsoft turned attention to a series of ads with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfield, which promised to “tell the story of Windows.”

Instead, the first two ads offered up a story about how Gates buys discount shoes and then the tale of how an unlikely pair of rich house guests might upset teenage girls and slam the door on a star-struck young service person.

Rather than making Gates appear more human, the ads departed from the track and went tumbling off toward the random and often non-sensical comedy style of Seinfeld. The problem of course, is that Seinfeld was an entertainment show ‘about nothing’ that people watched for passive entertainment; this was an expensively produced advertising message that failed to say anything.

Microsoft promised that the first ads were just a teaser leading up to an expanded series that would get to the point. Yet after seeing the public reaction to the ads, Microsoft’s PR group, Waggener Edstrom, put the series on hold, trying to spin the apparent cancelation as a planned progression to phase two, suggesting that the plan all along was to pay Seinfeld $10 million for two surreal teasers.

That story was outed as false when it was revealed that a third ad with Gates and Seinfeld had already been produced, but hasn’t yet been aired, and that there is no current plan to publish it.

Crispin Porter + Bogusky

The Seinfeld ads were the work of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a group with a reputation for doing more daring and original marketing campaigns to get people talking about a product. Interestingly, the group is profiled on Apple Canada’s Pro website, related to a project that put four Mac minis hooked up to capture video from mini cameras installed in a Volkswagon Rabbit painted to look like a cab.

For two weeks, the campaign drove the car around New York City “offering perfect strangers free taxi rides in an effort to demonstrate the Rabbit’s ability to negotiate extreme city traffic.”

In addition to the Mac minis installed in the car, which the producers described in the article by saying, “we could count on them being dependable and reliable throughout the process,” the campaign also set up a series of seven Mac workstations in a hotel room so they could edit and compress the footage and get it up on a website within 24 hours.

It’s somewhat ironic that Microsoft’s upper management, after hiring Crispin Porter + Bogusky to inject some new life in the the company’s brand, hastily decided to yank the ads before they had a chance to go anywhere. Of course, it’s also ironic that they chose Seinfeld, who was not only featured in a Think Different ad by Apple back at the height of his popularity (below), but that Seinfeld also prominently displayed Macs in his fictitious apartment throughout the entire run of his TV show.

The circumstances of the Seinfeld ads left the appearance that Gates was trying to buy cool by running along after Apple looking for things to copy, the very thing Microsoft was trying to convey that it wasn’t doing.

Your creative is too creative

Additionally, the Seinfeld skits seemed to be doing the opposite of what they intended to do; they actually ending up making Gates look more disconnected, arrogantly infatuated with his own sense of genius, and dismissive of the “regular people” who pay to use his company’s products. In dumping them, Microsoft has revealed plans to more directly to take issue with Apple’s Get a Mac TV spots.

Gates has bristled at the Get a Mac ads on several occasions before, which comically present John Hodgman as a PC character befuddled by problems, often with Vista. When asked in an interview if he identified himself with the PC character in Apple’s ads, Gates stormed out of the studio.

The entire campaign seems to be more focused on Gates’ intent to erase his perceived slight in being portrayed as a befuddled nerd rather than in presenting Microsoft as a strong and attractive brand. Microsoft already avoids using its company name on products it wants to market as cool, including the Xbox and Zune.

Those products are nearly irrelevant in comparison to the desktop Windows, Office, and server products that make up the vast majority of the company’s revenues and all of its profits. Windows and Office are very high margin products that have enjoyed limited competition.

Get a PC?

Apple’s Get a Mac ads are taking a bite into Windows Vista premium sales and more importantly creating a more positive impression of Macs at a time when even the Windows-oriented tech media is complaining about Vista. Allowed to continue, Apple might pull the cornerstone from Microsoft’s monopoly machine that sells Windows licenses automatically with every new PC sale.

Microsoft hopes to reverse things by defending the image of the PC character, in part by presenting a generic Hodgman clone complaining about being “stereotyped,” and by presenting a series of celebrities and other “everyday PC users” identifying themselves as a PC.

Microsoft’s New “I’m a PC ad, aired Thursday night.

The problem of course is that Apple presents the Mac in contrast to PC because it wants to avoid any unnecessary mention of Windows. By copying Apple’s line, Microsoft will be spending millions to advertise the PC rather than the Windows brand.

Further, as PC companies such as Dell and Acer continue to seek new ways to use Linux in place of Windows, and as the top PC vendor HP begins its own efforts to create a Windows alternative as reported by BusinessWeek, the idea of advertising ”the PC“ would do even less for Microsoft.

  • Brau

    Of course, all Apple has to do is show PC and Mac climbing into the same box (a Mac) and suddenly MicroSoft’s tagline of “Life without walls” makes a stellar case for Apple … when you want it all.

  • TexasAg03

    What I got from this one – PC users are criminals who deface public property…

    Why would they include a graffiti artist??

  • ilari.scheinin

    Being a subscriber to both AppleInsider and RoughlyDrafted, I find these double articles a bit annoying in my feeds. Would it be possible to provide an alternative feed, that did not include these AppleInsider pieces?

    And a couple of comment on the story itself:

    If I were Microsoft, I wouldn’t brag too much about being “without walls”. I guess it’s a bit less of an issue with Vista, but using XP truly was “life without walls” at some point.

    Also, I heard that Adidas will be airing their “I just don’t do it” set of ads shortly…

  • Netudo

    If there are no walls, there cannot be windows.

  • Brau

    If there are no walls, there cannot be windows.”

    Good one.

    Edit: If there’s no walls, there’s no need for Windows.

  • fatbarstard

    To take the ‘walls’ discussion a step further… if there are no walls then what is keeping the spam/viruses/trojans out?? Windows is more famous for not having ‘walls’ that protect its users… maybe there is a subliminal message in there for all of us….

  • luisd

    They are bizarre indeed.
    Last night I downloaded one of the pictures in their website and looked at the exiff info… Lovely surprise I found. Since then, the time stamp in the pictures on the windows webiste has changed and also the exiff information


  • harrywolf

    Gates has a fragile ego, typical of the ‘A’ type who feel the need to prove themselves at any cost. At ANY cost – $300 million in this example.

    The ads are all about Bill Gates.
    They are designed to show him as a cool guy, or as an uncool guy, which, by the reverse thinking of cool, is therefore cool.
    Why Gates thinks that the public know him as the Windows guy is beyond me – no-one, outside of techie types, knows or cares about Gates. This must be irksome, after all, isnt he the worlds richest man?

    Oh the humanity! His ego has been slighted! He isnt cool!(apologies to Dan for the plagiarism)

    And anyway, no mention of ‘Richest Man’ or Windows in the ads.

    Gates needs counseling for his narcissism. Urgently.

    Beware – rich people are not automatically happy or balanced – they are the SAME as poor people, except for the cash.
    Gates insane appearances and mention of his glasses shows the inferiority complex that drives him to cheat the public with his crappy products and illegal monopoly company.

    Its also a backhanded insult to all glasses wearers – there is NO issue with wearing glasses at all, so why does Gates have to be embarrassed about them, and then declare that its OK to wear them, as if somehow, in Gates twisted world, it isnt?

    My daughter wears glasses and she is utterly beautiful – how dare this fool bring glasses as a negative issue into ‘cool’ or succesful?
    Yes, this part of the advert DID annoy me. A LOT.

    Gates, like so many of his ilk, need others to fail in order for him to be happy. He is the repulsive face of greed that is seemingly ‘ok’ in our topsy-turvy world.

    Steve Jobs may be an odd one, but he has taste, something that Gates and his yes-men will NEVER have, no matter how much cash they throw away.

    Did it ever occur to these Microsoft people to simply make a GOOD product and keep doing that?
    (The answer, btw, is no.)

  • tino

    Near the end of the one ad, Deepak Chopra (or someone doing a very good Deepak Chopra imitation) says “I’m a PC, and a human being” — which I thought was good, because the rest of the ad had been spent denying Microsoft’s customers’ humanity.

    But then he goes on to say ‘Not a human doing, not a human thinking; a human being’.

    Aside from the annoying pop-psychologyness and faux profundity there, it’s an extremely bizarre statement to find in a Microsoft ad: Windows users spend their time not thinking, and not doing.

    The Gates/Seinfeld ads, on the other hand, were genius.

  • http://www.blue-ember.com Steffan

    “And I’m a PC too.” The third Get a Mac commercial already covered this ground, and turned the ’embrace and extend’ tables on Microsoft. If they deemed the Microsoft “I’m a PC” ad worthy of response, they could just re-air “Touché.”


  • Netudo

    Even with the Ads, I’m sorry for a 2 character multinational company (I used to work for) that dumped Unix for Windows in the last decade. What cool they are going to think windows is, when they realize that few of their scripts work on Vista, and they can’t get XP anymore. Corporate agreements protect companies longer but they don’t last for ever.

  • beanie

    Prince wrote:
    “Dell and Acer continue to seek new ways to use Linux in place of Windows, and as the top PC vendor HP begins its own efforts to create a Windows alternative ”

    Linux is a hit in the netbooks category, but more people buy the WinXP version of the netbook. So if Windows OEMs have some kind secret no compete clause, then why are OEMs using Linux?

    Daniel wrote that Linux is no competition and developed by volunteers which is a half-truth. It is true it is no competition, but the Linux kernel code is mostly developed by corporations such as RedHat, Novell, IBM and Intel.

    Netbooks seem to have popped MacBook Air sales. According to Apple Store top sellers list, it has dropped down to fourth place behind Macbook, Macbook Pro, and iMac.

    NetApplications traffic indicate Linux is close to crossing 1%. Usage is probably due to netbooks. If this continues, it might surpass Mac in five to ten years.

  • lightstriker

    I am a PC and I am so repetitive.
    I am a PC and I have no imagination.

    I am a PC and I am Mojave
    I am a PC and I blame my problems on the users.

    I am a PC ad and I wish I was rickrolled

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