Good God, I Sort of Like Microsoft’s New Windows Ads

By  |  Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 11:10 pm

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday morning, the assumption was that we were going to get more Microsoft ads involving Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, and that they were probably going to be just as annoying as the first ones. Then we learned that the Seinfeld ads are over for now and that Microsoft was moving on to ads which respond directly to Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign.

The first new Windows commercials are up, and after Bill and Jerry, they feel like a breathe of fresh air. (Then again, ads for HeadOn–apply directly to the forehead!–would feel like a breathe of fresh air after Bill and Jerry.) Who knows–maybe Microsoft was engaged in some sort of evil-genius strategy that involved beginning with weird, annoying spots so that the real ads would look that much better when they started.

Here they are, after the jump:

As usual, I’m full of impressions and questions:

Gee, what a schizophrenic campaign. The Seinfeld/Gates ads were aggressively fake; these new ones are aggressively real. I’m not sure if the contrast is intentional–and if it is, what it all means.

The new ads aren’t all that out there. Matter of fact, they’re kinda more subtle versions of Microsoft ads from the mid-1990s (“Where Do You Want to Go Today?)):

In an indirect way, they take on “Get a Mac’s” odd characterization of PCs as being boring and incapable of doing much except spreadsheets. (I discussed this over at PC World way back when “Get a Mac” launched.) It was a silly claim, but it’s been hanging over Windows like a cloud. The folks in the new Microsoft ads are interesting and diverse, and do way more than spreadsheets.

In an indirect way, they take on “Get a Mac’s” understandable characterization of people who use Macs as being hipper than Windows users. Justin Long is all very well, but he’s kind of dull compared to all the folks in the Microsoft ad–and he’s definitely outnumbered. (Actually, “Mac” was never a particularly sympathetic or interesting character.) The message here, presumably, is that Macs are mere lifestyle accessories while PCs help real people do all kinds of real stuff in the real world.

Is it a mistake to do ads that feel like rejoinders to Apple ads? “Get a Mac” clearly got under Microsoft’s skin; you can understand why it would want to respond. But if the sum of the message is “We think that the ads of our much smaller competitor are unfair–you’re not boring just because you use Windows,” Microsoft is kinda off on a tangent. And at $300 million, an expensive one! It’s sort of as if Barack Obama were to spend his entire warchest on commercials complaining that John McCain is mischaracterizing him.

I’m guessing that the explicit references to Apple advertising are just a phase, soon to end. Microsoft has already proved it’s willing to jump from one them to another in these ads, and I can’t imagine that “I’m a PC” is the core concept for the campaign from now on.

Microsoft’s real challenge is to get people off of old versions of Windows and onto new ones, right? There are far, far more XP users in the world to convert to Vista than Mac users. Is there a way to address these folks in ads that logically flow out of these ones?

Is everybody going to understand these commercials? Yes, bloggers and professional Mac fans love to think about computer ads and write about ’em. (Hey, I’m doing it right now!) But are normal people going to understand the spots? Especially the stuff like snippy responses to the Mac ads’ stereotyping of PC users as portly glasses-wearing guys in bad tweed jackets? Even I only know that the John Hodgman lookalike is a Microsoft employee and not a cheesy mimic only because I read about it in the New York Times!

I wonder what Apple thinks of the ads? And, specifically, the fact that they riff on Apple commercials? Not that they’d talk about it in person. I’m guessing that the company was probably ready to start moving away from the “Get a Mac” campaign anyhow; it’s run for a long time (since May, 2006) and was already feeling a tad tired. Even if the Microsoft ads completely neutralized the effectiveness of the Apple ones–which won’t happen–it might be OK. And Apple being Apple, it’s probably working on clever new spots right now.

I like the brief appearances by Bill Gates. Coming back to Gates as a dominant personality in Microsoft ads didn’t make much sense. Brief cameos, on the other hand, do.

Will Microsoft segue into ads that make a stronger case for Windows as a good product? Nobody will watch these three new spots and come away with an improved impression of Windows Vista as an operating system, or a better understanding of its features. They’re not maniacally beside the point like the Bill and Jerry ads, but they remain an oblique sell. Will we see “I’m a PC” ads that, like, show PCs?

Will the “Life Without Walls?” slogan make more sense over time? Is it a negative comment about other companies’ products? A positive one about Microsoft’s? I can’t quite tell at this point.

The overarching message I took away from the ads is this: Actually, the operating system you use doesn’t have very much to do with the sort of person you are, and certainly won’t make you a better human being. Which is true. And if Microsoft is admitting that fact in these ads, and trying to leverage it, I’m impressed. But I suspect that’s not the conclusion they want anyone to draw…

So what’s your take on the new ads?



6 Comments For This Post

  1. Rob Walley Says:

    Wow, what a difference. This is exactly the way Microsoft should have responded years ago when the “I’m a Mac” campaign began. It is a gentle reminder that no matter how cool a Mac is, the world still runs on Windows. Even I wanted to buy a Mac, but saw no real reason when all of my business and personal apps were Windows based. I just wanted a Mac. This new ad reminded me why Apple will have to produce more than cool factor to get me to buy. In the meantime, Windows (Vista included) works because the apps I need to use and the apps I want to use are all written for the Windows platform.

  2. pond Says:

    This strikes me as having nothing to do with Bill/Jerry ads. I’m thinking this was another of several ideas for the one proposed campaign. Bill/Jerry was the winner, only it flopped, forcing MS in desperation to scream at the ad company, ‘Do the other one! The other one! Now!’

    They are not very well produced, and might even have been the ‘prototypes’ of this campaign suggestion. So I’d hope they get better. Or, maybe this is just stop-gap, while the ad agency regroups and produces from yet another campaign, or retools ‘celebrity’ campaign, as has been suggested by the MS blogger.

    I have a hard time believing one agency, or one company (MS) would have considered an ad campaign that starts out with the 2 Bill/Jerry ads … and then goes to this. Without even a segue.

    These ads are defensive in the way they ‘answer’ the ‘I’m a Mac’ ads. ‘No, we’re not boring bland cubicle-dwellers!’ is not a real proactive message, guys.

    But Windows 7 is coming, and then MS can go back to the more-traditional tech-company message of, ‘You won’t believe what’s coming. The Future. Brought to you by MicroSoft’ sort of idea.

  3. Paul Greatbatch Says:

    The effectiveness of the Apple ads (that the MS ads are missing to date) is not the “I’m a PC” notion, but that it correctly addresses the pain that Windows users feel in using their machines.

    The Microsoft ads do nothing to address the issues. They basically say, “Hey, a billion people can’t be wrong. Don’t you want to be with the majority?” That’s like saying you should eat s–t, because a million flies on a manure truck can’t be wrong.

    The problem is the product, not who sits in what camp. First rule of marketing: you’d better have the product to back up your claims. And the MS campaign says nothing about that.

  4. jbelkin Says:

    You know why the Apple ads are effective?

    To most people, they are put off by technology ads like these or like the ones MS used to run – that your kid at a chalkboard will be an astronaut after learning Windows. To them, it’s like sitting in front of a tyewriter where the keys get stuck together and they spend mre time fixing their ‘typewriter.’

    The Apple ads are brilliant because they DO NOT promise the moon with each ad – each ad answers one problem or one question. Look at the genius one, it doesn’t promise you they’ll answer every question with a smile – no, all they promise is they’ll load your PC onto your new Mac … ONE PROBLEM. ONE RESOLUTION.

    But it gets better than that. By framing the ad on a white background, everytime you see a new ad, you AUTOMATICALLY think there’s one thing that the Mac has that the PC doesn’t – doesn’t matter if you believe it or listen to the ad. Show people now an ad in a white room with two guys – who will people related the ad as from? So, even if you’re in a bar and you see them two with a bear, you can’t hear any of it but what are PC & mac users thinking – yet another point to “attack” Pc’s with something better on the Mac side.

    And if notice, now, iphones are black backagrounds as is the ipod … Apple, not as dumb as you think.

    MS? Their main problem is conusmer perception and association with the brand is at death’s door – virus, malware, Xbox red ring of death, MSN, webtv, the zune, etc, etc … MS is a tired consumer brand. But as with the ads above, MS is the DMV … how many ads will the DMV run before you love them? And doesn’t the DMV have more systemic problems to fix first?

  5. B Says:

    meh. Big deal.
    In this commercial, each person in turn could just as well state; “I want more fiber in my diet.” It would have the same effect.
    (And when they get to the guy in the shark cage, they could have the shark put up a sign that says “Me too”.)

  6. Matt Says:

    ‘Windows: Life Without Walls’

    I’ll restate something I read on another site;

    If you don’t have walls then why would you need windows?

    I’ll keep my walls, they keep out the cold. At least with the old windows I can mostly keep the rain out, even if I have to constantly clean them.

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