Todd shows us the new Lost previews sponsored by Microsoft. I'm not a marketing person (please, let's not even go there again...i'm a marketing enthusiast maybe), but I think that one thing that people often don't understand well is the relationship between the advertising/marketing vehicle and the target market, and whether contextual relevance is required. For example, many people might think that the best place to advertise for Vista is at a computer store or developers conference; somewhere where the competition for mind share (not to mention eyeballs may be great.
So while there may be no contextual relevance between Vista and Lost, for example, market research may show that developers and IT/business decision makers make up a large percentage of the Lost viewership. You can advertise on the back of a bus if it's going through the right neighborhood.
I always rather enjoy the advertising that makes you think about how it was targeted. It offers you some insight into the psychographics of the people that are most likely to come across the advertisement. Now, if I had to have a conversation with a third part software developer, I might ask if they saw the last episode of Lost. It would be a short conversation, because I don't watch Lost, but at least it wold be a start. I'd go into the conversation possibly knowing a little more about that person.
Of course the ability of an ad to touch your target market relative to the price , although simplistically stated, is what effective advertising is all about; along with the ability of the ad content to impact perceptions or drive behavior (depending on whether it's branding or product advertising...whew, I sound like marketing 101 and that's about as deep as I care to go without making a fool of myself).
It's funny to see points made on Todd's blog about John Hodgman being more likable in the Mac ads. I think that is what I said way back when they started. Did I remember to thank Steve Jobs for the free advertising? There's already an "us versus them" mentality among many Mac heads. So I would see the ads as more of a branding exercise...reinfiocement so to speak. I don't see them really swaying PC users and although I perceive a bit of a wobbly call to action as they talk about the features of the Mac relative to the PC, I think that viewers are too sucked into to the personalities and the novelty to really internalize the product features that much. So great marketing in that they are interesting and people form opinions about them but I, too, would be interested in hearing if they have driven sales in any way.