When I first heard about the new Jerry Seinfeld ad campaign that Microsoft was producing to promote the Windows brand, I was very excited. Finally, Microsoft was going to respond to the unfair, elitist Mac vs. PC ads that have been drip drip dripping on the Windows brand for more than a year now. The Mac vs. PC ads are infuriating, dishonest, over-simplified and denigrating to people who use PCs, and we were long overdue to respond. Hey, that's not just my opinion. In fact, on a recent trip to San Francisco & Mountain View, I heard some of those turtleneck-wearing fashionistas saying they were kind of over Apple attitude as well. That was a real shock.
So, when I finally saw ad # 1 last week, my eyes were glued to the set for all 90 seconds. But guess what? I didn't get it. At all. The commercial was moderately funny, but didn't say a thing about Windows. It didn't respond in any way at all to the Mac vs. PC advertisements. It really didn't say much of anything... fitting for the guy famous for the show about nothing. They went to an imaginary shoe store. Bill adjusts his underwear with a weird tail wiggle in a mall parking lot. I figured... well, this ad campaign is either true genius or a complete waste of a reported 300 million. Maybe I'm too dumb to know why it was so genius. And after the Windows Live brand debacle (just put a fork in it, it's done), I was leaning towards the campaign being a complete waste of money.
Over the days after seeing the ad, the topic came up in conversation a few times with friends. I talked about it with coworkers at the water cooler and also with friends at a party. We all agreed on the confusion. What's the point?
And then... I saw the second ad the other night. Bill & Jerry move into the home of a Seattle family and do more of the same... nothing. It's cuter than the first. It's funny, kind of endearing, and I watched the whole thing. And I laughed. And I want to see the next ad in the series. Hmmm. Maybe there is something to this after all.
As a former student of advertising and public relations, I think there's a few problems that Microsoft needs to address... 2 of those problems are about Microsoft itself... the image of Microsoft as the big bad evil empire that has a stranglehold on your computer and wants to force you to work inside their box and second... the growing perception of Windows as clunky,yesterday, low quality operating system. Another problem is that Apple/Mac has all the coolness factor of the hip kid on the block, while Microsoft is for geeky losers.
After seeing the second ad, I realize they are not trying (yet at least) to address all of these problems. First and foremost, it seems like they are trying to humanize Microsoft, something that has never really happened since the anti-trust settlement, despite the nauseating Your Potential, Our Passion campaign. The ads seem to be showing Microsoft is not such a big baddie as everyone makes us out to be. We're just normal people, doing normal, mundane things. We're not the conniving, money-grubbing, stuck in the 90's idiots that the Mac vs. PC ads want to portray us as. Hey, maybe people can actually start to relate to the folks at Microsoft again? No one wants to relate to the PC guy in the PC ad.
So... recapping... so far I see the Seinfeld campaign as trying to give our customers a face that they can feel good about relating to, and maybe even laugh about it. It doesn't change Windows brand or Vista's technical & UX problems. But maybe, just maybe, they're on to something here. After over a year of feeling crappy about having Vista get trashed, I now feel more like a normal, boring person just like all the other normal boring people, and I care a little bit less about the snide, snarky attitude ads that Apple is running.
Full disclosure... I worked on Windows Mail and Windows Contacts in Vista Beta 1 before moving to Office Live. However, for anyone on the fence about Vista, my response is always the same... a very excited endorsement for the most important time saving, conversion-worthy feature: the Start Menu search box. Hit start... type "Calculator", and voila.. Calculator shows up right there in the menu. Hit enter or click it. Run it. No more surfing through Program files->Accessories...whatever whatever whatever to find the Calculator. This one single feature is proof enough to me that Vista has some positive things too. Let's hope the Seinfeld ads continue and eventually start addressing the other PR/perception issues the Windows brand and Vista still have.