With their Yahoo money burning in their pockets, Balmer and co. felt they needed to get rid of it, so they they decided to make a splash and throw $300 million in a new advertising campaign.
What the hell, you only live once, and, after what they’ve been through lately, they really needed the ego boost.
It’s, after all, perfectly understandable. Just put yourself in their position: Vista was a let down, Yahoo blatantly rejected them, Google keeps getting all the attention, and Apple is more and more entrenched in its cooler than cool status. I mean, that’s enough to depress any one, even a tough guy like Balmer. It’s like nobody loves them.
To address this urge for love, Microsoft recruited Seinfeld, hoping that his vacuous type of humor would help the brand get into consumers hearts, and not just their desktops.
It all must have seemed to work fine on the paper: you want to get close to consumers and trash the loathed behemoth image, so you make a YouTube-like kind of video, exploring the new trends in Consumer Generated Media (CGM).
Humor is a sure way to get close, so you recruit one of the best known comedians, and you pay him a king’s ransom ($10 million, no less) to work his magic on the brand.
You even throw in the recently retired Gates to add weight to the claim that Microsoft isn’t the matrix, but a company for guys “just like you”.
So, what’s the problem? Well, just about everything.
If you make a YouTube kind of film, you must know that all hangs on the copy – and the copy here is almost nonexistent. The storyline goes like this: Seinfeld is strolling along in a mall; he sees Bill Gates buying shoes at a discount store; he gets in and helps him try the shoes; they leave together as they muse about the future of computers.
Note that only at the last third of the ad there is some reference to computers, the claim being that Microsoft has its eye on the future of computers (at discount prices, one would presume).
This could all be excused if the ad was funny; well, it isn’t. Gates is just about the dullest guy in the world, and it’s painstaking to watch him trying to interact with Seinfeld in a humorous way.
And that is the other problem. It was considered a good idea to show Gates behaving like a regular guy, true to his nerd roots, despite being one of the richest guys in the world. We even get to watch a photo of a young Gates in a member card for the discount store, which is something nobody in their right mind would ever want to do. And if that wasn’t enough to scare you, you get rewarded at the end with an unforgettable image of Gates shaking his bum. Really, if it were in Halloween, he’d be filled with treats.
And that’s just the thing: it’s NOT a good idea to parade Gates (much less being “himself”), because nobody wants to relate with him. Even the nerds don’t want to be the Gates-type of nerd – they may be “nerds”, but they still want to be hype. That’s why Steve Jobs has a cult. That’s why Gates, despite all his good deeds and Time covers, doesn’t, and never will.
So, instead of an ad that feeds on the new trends and connects to the new consumers, you end up with something that seems like a homemade video from the nineties, showing a nerd and a not-so-funny guy, both from back then, buying shoes at a discount store and talking about edible computers (certainly the way of the future).
Really, could it be any worse?