Posted by: David Kiley on September 15, 2008
I may be in the minority, but I think the new Microsoft ads featuring company founder Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld created by Crispin Porter +Bogusky are hitting the right chords.
The first ad, which showed Seinfeld coming across Gates shopping at a discount shoe store, left many, including me, scratching heads about where this campaign is going.
The theme on which Gates and Seinfeld are working is “Making connections.” In the new ad, the two are trying to connect with “real people,” by living with what I might call this week a “hockey mom” family. In one scene, he reads a bedtime story to the child, who asks, “Are there any monsters in this story?” Mr. Gates answers, “Yes, but it’s OK, there are firewalls.” At the end of the ad, a beloved leather giraffe is missing from the mantle. No one claims responsibility, and we are left with the impression that Gates and Seinfeld swiped it. That led me and millions more to dial up the long-form ad, 4 minutes and 30 seconds, on the Net.
And this is where we are going, on a story. This is the first time in my memory that Microsoft has tried to tell a story about its company or products. Up to now, it has largely let Apple define Microsoft’s story by allowing the rival to depict Microsoft in its ads as a pudgy, out-of-touch, hyper-sensitive, older, office nerd.
I still like the consistency and clarity of Apple’s ongoing ad. But it’s hard not to stay glued to the tube when Bill Gates is acting on screen with Seinfeld. It’s like seeing someone unexpected on screen, like when Barbra Streisand suddenly appeared out of the blue on Saturday Night Live in a Mike Myers “Cawfee-Talk” skit.
I confess that as a notorious and serial ad skipper when I am watching DVR’d programs, I backtracked when I saw the Microsoft ad. Okay, I knew I wanted to write about the campaign. But it was more than that. I really wanted to see the next installment of the story. I’m not feeling the love of Windows. But I am curious, and that is a pretty good achievement for an ad these days.
When the announcement came that Seinfeld was starring in the ads, I was skeptical. I was expecting galloping irrelevancy. What we got was a terrific new conversation starter on the Microsoft brand. And while I was annoyed with the agency and company for not showing me the whole raft of ads so I’d know what was coming, I even support their decision to surprise everyone, including the media, with what comes next.
As engaging as the TV ads are, the longer form ads on the Net are better. My favorite line in the new ad: when the kid comes to the door with a big Chinese food delivery and wants $39.75, Gates looks at him and says, “I got nothin’” and closes the door. Seinfeld gives him a Greek coin filtched from the homeowner they are living with to pay the bill.
What is worth noting about the new Microsoft campaign is that it is not operating in a vacuum, nor is the company relying on the TV ads to carry the whole load. While watching cable-TV this past weekend, I saw an ad featuring the video-taped reactions of real people being shown the capability of Microsoft’s Vista operating system. The “Wows” and “OhmyGods” of the real people were enough to send me to the website wondering what I have been missing. I have seen research, after all, that shows that most users only utilize about 5% of any Microsoft operating system.
Oh, and here is another signal that a campaign is catching on. The parodies on youtube.com are coming fast and furious.