By Harry McCracken | Friday, September 5, 2008 at 9:25 am
The $300 million Windows ad campaign featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates is here–or at least the first installment is. It debuted last night on NBC during football, and thanks to the miracle of YouTube, here it is on Technologizer. Go ahead and watch it, if you haven’t seen it yet–I’ll wait:
What to make of it? Given that it barely mentions computers, and refers to Windows only in the form of a logo at the end, it’s obviously meant to whet our appetite for ads to come rather than push a product. (TechCrunch has a memo from Microsoft Senior Vice President Bill Veghte that says “The first phase of this campaign is designed to engage consumers and spark a new conversation about Windows–a conversation that will evolve as the campaign progresses, but will always be marked by humor and humanity.”) So it would be a mistake to render any verdict on how well Microsoft invested its millions at this point.
But the fact that the first new Windows ad involves Bill Gates buying shoes, Jerry Seinfeld eatting a churro, discussion of showering with one’s clothes on and edible computers, and–I can’t believe I’m about to type these words–Bill Gates adjusting his shorts–is a useful reminder of one thing: No matter whether the ad campaign as a whole is glorious or awful, Windows Vista will be the same product it was before the commercials started. No better, no worse.
This new ad’s tagline is “The Future. Delicious.” I dunno whether that slogan will pop up in later ads; I’m not even sure what it means. I do know, however, that Windows Vista is neither futuristic nor as delicious as you’d want an operating system to be. Maybe the tagline refers to Windows Seven? It’s definitely part of the future, and the possibility remains that it’ll be tastier than Vista.
“Think of these ads as an icebreaker to reintroduce Microsoft to viewers in a consumer context,” says Veghte in the memo at TechCrunch. It’s kind of amazing that consumers would need to be reintroduced to the company, given that the vast majority of them spend time with one or more Microsoft products every day. Living with products like Windows, Office, and Internet Explorer is a vastly better way to form opinions about Microsoft–pro or con–than watching TV commercials.
I also think it’s sad–and in a way, oddly touching–that the new fact of Microsoft turns out to be Bill Gates…the guy who made his nostalgic departure from a day-to-day role at the company slightly over two months ago. Microsoft is going to have to move away from being synonymous with Gates at some point, but that time is clearly not now.
(Side note: The new ad woulda probably been a heckuva lot more entertaining if it had featured Seinfeld and Steve Ballmer, who could be the unholy love child of George Costanza and Kramer. Ballmer wouldn’t have been shopping for shoes; he would have been selling them. Loudly.)
And one final note. Almost everybody who writes about the Gates/Seinfeld ads brings up Apple’s “Get a Mac” ads with Mac and PC. Logical enough–both campaigns try to sell through humor, and both involve a couple of guys. But for all their humor, the “Get a Mac” commercials are ultimately about playing up Mac virtues and relentlessly slamming Windows (sometimes accurately, sometimes unfairly). They’re a hard sell disguised as comedy.
After one commercial, my main takeaway from the Microsoft campaign is this: I’m trying to erase the image of Bill Gates’ shorts from my mind. If Veghte’s right about the ads sparking a discussion about Windows, that conversation remains unsparked so far…