Posts Tagged 'Microsoft'

Microsoft “I’m a loony” ad

“I’m a PC and I like the slimming effect in a purple stripped shirt”. This is how the new Microsoft ad starts. It doesn’t get much better as it advances.

This esoteric tagline is followed by others, equally disturbing ones, like “I love zebra chasing” or “I’m stuck in the 80’s”. But when it gets really frightening is when we watch an elderly man growl “I’m a machine” with his eyes closed. I guess someone took the “I’m a PC” tagline too much at heart. I just hope he doesn’t get a bug.

The ad is a compilation of user-made videos uploaded to the campaign’s micro-site, following a call from Microsoft for users to get involved and show “what kind of PC” they are.

In line with the latest trends in CGM (Consumer Generated Media), Microsoft wanted to involve consumers in a “conversation” with the brand, thus contributing to advance it’s grade of intimacy with users.

Using this kind of strategy seems shrewd, since it has great potential with only marginal cost. So, there’s nothing for me to criticize about the micro-site and the consumer involvement strategy it represents.

There is, however, plenty to criticize in the ad that resulted from this. The video should be a snippet of the conversation that users were having with the brand, presenting the distilled essence of thousands of individual insights. The problem is that it isn’t any such thing.

Instead of presenting a coherent narrative to counter the successful Apple’s depiction of PCs as “uncool” and “second rate”, Microsoft chose to present a collage of disparate things, seemingly glued together in “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” mode.

Actually, this isn’t exactly true. Because what stands out from this video (besides perplexity), as from the overall “I’m a PC” campaign,  is the quest to assert “difference”. If you remember the first “I’m a PC” ad, it starts with the “PC” character (“borrowed” from Apple ads) saying “I’m a PC and I’ve been made into a stereotype”.

Well, Microsoft is managing to break that stereotype. The thing is that the narrative it’s implementing isn’t exactly much more appealing than the one represented by that guy with serious fashion issues. Having someone saying “I’m a PC and I like the slimming effect in a purple stripped shirt” isn’t “different” nor “eccentric”. It’s just plain crazy.

Instead of obsessing about countering Apple’s narrative, Microsoft should instead pay more attention to the narrative it is actively building for itself. Because it may well stop being the “square” brand to become the “loony” brand.

Or maybe that’s actually it. Maybe someone at Crispin Porter & Bogusky just watched “Crazy People” and decided to give a shot at that unconventional creative process.

In case you haven’t watched it, “Crazy People” is a movie about an ad executive that, after a burnout, starts working with the people of the mental institution to which he was admitted. The ads that come out of this peculiar partnership work well in the beginning, but then things start going awry, as you can see in this memorable sequence:

Maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s more than a casual coincidence between the guy in the white suit tagline – “Frnxt Ghrt Sony Gurm” and “I like the slimming effect in a purple stripped shirt”. Although we can in fact understand the words in the last sentence, it’s meaning is similarly cryptic.

The fact, however, that the last sentence is for real and was actually approved for public viewing makes its significance to Microsoft’s narrative much more disturbing. A case of reality surpassing fiction.


Microsoft, Beaten To A Pulp, Takes Some More Abuse

If Microsoft thought it could preempt Apple’s continuous abuse with the campaign it launched last month, then it was sadly mistaken. One can see Microsoft’s point: after those Bill&Jerry ads, making fun of Microsoft has turned into a futile exercise on repetition. Would you punch someone who was already frantically punching himself?

Apparently, yes. Apple just couldn’t resist pilling some more abuse on Microsoft, so it released this new “I’m a Mac” ad. The ad takes on the huge price tag attached to the marvelous Crispin Porter + Bogusky campaign, contrasting it with the comparably small amount of money allocated to solving Vistas’s much-talked problems.

Seeing what Microsoft got for the $300 million it gave Crispin Porter, it does seem like a bit of the ungentlemanly thing to do. Abusing Microsoft is now roughly on the same level as making fun of the office dork. But hey, Apple’s is hip, not gentlemanly.

For now, Microsoft can do little but watch in horror as the brand takes yet another round of abuse. But the more sportsmanlike among you need not worry, for this passivity won’t last long. Pretty soon they’ll be launching another one of those great “I’m a PC” ads (the Bill&Jerries have, sadly, already been discontinued). And then what? What will Apple do when everybody’s laughing their heads off at the newest Crispin Porter insanity? Launching still better products? Poor suckers…

Things have come to the point when there are already some voices out there claiming that Apple’s strategy could even backfire, because people will start feeling sorry for Microsoft. The thinking is that Microsoft will start cashing on the sympathy quota reserved for the underdogs, with Apple being seen as the bully that just can’t stop shaking the poor nerd for his lunch money.

Although innovative, this line of thought seems to elude one tiny detail: that Microsoft is by no means a frail nerd, but the true behemoth on the market. The fact that it keeps tripping on its feet when it runs to get other, more nimble, players doesn’t make it the underdog. It just makes it inept.

In the end, that is Microsoft’s true problem, in communications as in anything else. In trying to “take back the narrative”, Microsoft’s latest campaign did nothing of the sort. In fact, the only thing it managed to do was to corner the brand in the “uncool” spot into which Apple had been pushing it.

On top of it, they still had to pay $300 million for the joy of being ridiculed. And they can’t even count on pity. Poor things.

Crispin Porter Master Plan: Microsoft As The Less Dorky Brand

Adding insult to injury, it has recently emerged that the atrocious “I’m a PC” ads were actually made… on Macs!

The blogosphere is bursting with laughter over this one. But maybe we’re all wrong, and this is just part of a big plan concocted by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the $300 million Masters of Communication that crafted this beautiful Microsoft campaign.

Contrary to popular perception, the agency is adamant in maintaining that the Bill&Jerry ads were designed from the start as a teaser – a kind of $10 million plus amuse bouche, just to get the conversation started before the main course.

It then seems that its short half-life (just two weeks) had nothing to do with You Tubers threatening to immolate themselves in a desperate effort to stop the horrific campaign. It’s just that Bill&Jerry had already served their purpose, so it was time to let them go.

In comments to the NYTimes, Rob Reilly, partner and co-executive creative director at Crispin Porter, said that the campaign “ did what it needed to do”, and the “people who got it, got it”.

So, now that the ads had flawlessly achieved its goal of having us all mock Microsoft – I think it’s safe to say that we all got that part – , it was time to move on to phase two.

So out came the “I’m a PC” ads, whose apparent goal was to further reinvigorate the mocking. And then, just when it seemed that things couldn’t get much worse for Microsoft, it emerged that the ads were designed on Macs.

Your ad is all about having people from all walks of life – from students to fishmongers to NASA staff – proudly stating that they are PC users. Yet you can’t even get your own ad agency to use PCs to make the lousy ad! How’s that for a brand statement?

Pretty much pathetic, no? But here’s where we’ve all been fooled, and the genius of Crispin Porter + Bogusky reveals itself.

You see, this was their plan all along – to build a negative appeal in the audience, and then, at the very last moment, transfer all that negative charge towards Apple.

On phase 3 of the campaign, we can then expect to see something like – “I’m a Mac, and I can’t come up with anything better than this ads”.

At this moment, all the previous mocking directed at Microsoft would then get, by some mysterious psychological process, glued to Apple, in such a powerful way that it would take it years to recover. With some luck, consumers would even start recalling Steve Jobs buying discount shoes and doing the “robot dance”.

Microsoft would then have no problem positioning itself as the less dorky brand, as Steve Jobs struggled to shake loose of the campaign’s deathly embrace.

Seems logical, no? I mean, how else could we explain all this?

Microsoft surrenders to Apple

After a mere two weeks, and under a barrage of jocose abuse on the blogosphere, Microsoft decided it was time to give viewers a rest and pulled the plug on its Seinfeld “about nothing” ads.

The communication blitz, however, hasn’t ended. To replace the dreadful “Bill&Jerry” ads, Microsoft just put forward two new “I’m a PC” ads.

The ads build heavily on the famous “I’m a Mac” campaign from Apple, with Microsoft going as far as actually recruiting a John Hodgman look-alike.

We are told that the guy is one of Microsoft engineers. What remains unknown is if he was already like that in real life, or if Gates installed a codec to turn him into a caricature of a PC user. Or maybe he just got a bug from his Vista upgrade.

David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft, candidly admitted to the New York Times that Apple had succeeded in making “a caricature out of the PC”.

After playing dead for the past months, Microsoft now decided it was time to counter-attack and “take back the narrative”.

It’s baffling, to say the least, that Microsoft chooses to repossess its own story by mimicking (and therefore paying tribute to) Apple’s communication.

This, however, doesn’t seem to concern Microsoft managers, with Mr. Webster describing the glaring references to Apple’s communication as a “smart way of changing the dialogue without taking them through the mud”.

He’s absolutely right in that respect. This ads don’t take Apple through the mud. They’re already too busy dragging Microsoft.

In the Bill&Jerry ads, Microsoft made a mockery out of itself by either presenting itself as a discount or a dislocated brand – not exactly the most prized slots in the consumer’s mind.

Now, in a truly perplexing move, it chooses to acknowledge the success of Apple’s communication in pushing Microsoft into the “uncool” corner – it even has one of the characters in the ad saying “I’m a PC and I’m not what you call hip” to underscore the feeling.

Instead of making and upholding its own claim, it chooses to deviate resources and, most important, consumer’s attention into countering Apple’s, thus waging war in a place chosen by the enemy, and where he is already well entrenched – a poor choice by all accounts.

This kind of guerrilla tactic has its value if you are, well, a guerrilla – small and mobile, and looking to sting rather than to crush.

That is not, however, the case of Microsoft, a true behemoth and the third most valuable brand in the world, according to the just released Interbrand index.

Microsoft is a giant, which means that it’s easier for it to fall on it’s own accord than for others to make it fall. It should acknowledge that and not try to move like a dwarf.

In Kagesmusha, a film by Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, Lord Shingen Takeda emphatically warns its heirs that they should never move the full force of the army out of their domains, for it would leave it exposed. “The mountain does not move”, he kept repeating.

It’s warnings, however, fall in deaf ears. His successor, longing for battle, mobilizes the entire army to attack a smaller neighbor, which in the end brings about the demise of the entire clan.

Now Microsoft just moved the mountain. Will it fall?

Bill&Jerry “Family” Ad

Microsoft is back with their dreadful Bill&Jerry campaign.

This time, the pair goes to live with a “regular” family in the suburbs, in order to “connect” with “real people”.

“Connection” is what it’s all about, with Microsoft trying to rebrand PC from Personal Computer to Perpetually Connecting.

This ad is as dumb and absurd as the previous one, with Gates at its dullest self and Seinfeld as out of sync as anyone else.

But the funny thing is that, for all the behind the scenes conceptualization about “connection”, what the ad shows us is how Gates and Seinfeld clearly can’t connect with the family.

When playing a pair’s Ping-Pong game, Seinfeld can’t stop blaming the mother for their mishaps (so much for connecting with your partner); Gates bores a kid to death while reading him a goodnight story from what it seems like a software developers’ manual, thus risking causing him permanent emotional trauma.

If you think I’m exaggerating, just imagine having Gates by your bed reading you a story, and you can see what the kid has been put through.

Gates and Seinfeld are the quintessential undesirable guests. If this were to be a TV show – and that is, after all, the all idea, to package the ad as a Seinfelnesque type of TV show – everybody would be rooting for them to be thrown down the well or electrocuted with a toaster in the bath.

In fact, they are so obnoxious that the family’s little girl, fed up with having them squatting in her room, devises a plot to frame them for stealing a vacation’s souvenir. As a result, they endure forced labour and are finally booted out of the house.

So there you go: the company that wants you to think of them as “connecting people”, builds an ad in which the characters can’t really connect with anyone, and are in the end thrown out of the environment in which they strived to enter.

Some would consider this a pretty telltale sign of what’s already going on, as Google consolidates its position in the post-desktop environment and Microsoft lags further and further behind.

What’s beyond me is why Microsoft would want to reinforce this idea.

Incredibly, Microsoft seems not to have anything better to say about its future offerings than Seinfeld’s absurd musings about emails for frogs and websites for goldfishes, which are confirmed by a “robot Gates” trying to dance (a frightful sight).

In the end, as we watch Gates and Seinfeld dragging along their suitcases in their misguided quest to “connect”, asking themselves where they’re headed, we can’t help but wonder: is Microsoft on a road to nowhere?

Seinfeld Microsoft Ad

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?

July 2019
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