Microsoft Gates/Seinfeld Ads: Storytelling That's Catching On.

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.

Reader Comments

CSWagner

September 15, 2008 1:44 PM

These ads are so insulting and offensive that people should be calling for them to be pulled off the air.

David Drake

September 15, 2008 1:47 PM

Wow, you are in the minority. These ads aren't Branded and seem silly.

Tak

September 15, 2008 1:48 PM

You are in the minority. FYI...

Don Kelly

September 15, 2008 1:55 PM

We are used to Microsoft ads, but what surprised me was Bill Gates in the ad. When I saw him I just had to stick around to see what he was up to.

Don Kelly, Cornelius, OR

Don Kelly

September 15, 2008 1:55 PM

We are used to Microsoft ads, but what surprised me was Bill Gates in the ad. When I saw him I just had to stick around to see what he was up to.

Don Kelly, Cornelius, OR

Smart than Mr. Kiley

September 15, 2008 2:21 PM

Of course Mr. Kiley thinks it's hitting the right chords. Those ads are targeting those know-nothing-about-IT few who would rather talk about ads than the garbage that MS has produced in the last decade. It's about creating a buzz and Mr. Kiley is doing exactly what MS expected. The majority (including IT professionals) would say it is a diversion.

Dar

September 15, 2008 3:04 PM

I think the small minority that thinks these terrible commercials work need to understand the difference between laughing with and laughing at. This are truly the most terrible commercials I have seen in some time and reinforces the perception that Microsoft is becoming a has-been. Even with funny moments (traffic jam)

Bill S.

September 15, 2008 3:21 PM

That's the stupidest commercial I've ever seen. I have no idea what they were trying to sell!?

Paxton

September 15, 2008 3:32 PM

I swear to God my Windows Vista just crashed watching that ad's parody, how ironic!

Amy

September 15, 2008 3:53 PM

Unfortunately you are in the minority on this one. Microsoft took way too long to come up with their idea of a creative campaign, and even with all that time to think of something, they fell way short of the mark. Hiring a big name celeb like Seinfeld to abstractly promote Windows is pretty lame. Not to mention Macs are just better computers - something no commercial can prove otherwise. Seriously, give yourself 10 minutes in front of a Mac and you'll ask yourself why you wasted so many years on Windows. I dare you to try it. What do you have to lose?

ideagirl

September 15, 2008 4:12 PM

I like the ads, and I have since I saw the first one. I don't understand the huge backlash against them from the web crowd. They're weird, quirky and funny, which is something most people definitely do not think of when they think of Microsoft.

Huntsman

September 15, 2008 4:14 PM

These commercials are freaking hilarious!

Frank Loweser

September 15, 2008 6:53 PM

I agree. When theese ads come on, I can't skip them. The Net ads ARE better. It's a hoot seeing Gates in thius context, and the fact that he can't act makes it even funnier.

The boo-birds who say the ads stink, it seems to me, are people who just despise Microsoft on principle. I can't ever recall actually paying attention to a Msoft ad before....

Steve

September 15, 2008 7:12 PM

Are any of you guys old enough to remember the burma shave ads? They were incredibly effective, even though they didn't actually give you much information about the product beyond "it'll shave you clean". What that campaign did was establish a positive idea in people's heads around Burmashave. That was all it took....

People's perception of a brand has a lot to do with "image" and very little to do with the facts about products. You should listen to people argue about whether Chevy or Dodge make better trucks, or whether Budweiser or Miller is a better yellow beer.

So if Microsoft wants to change its image, this is exactly the sort of ad campaign that might work. It's kind of cool that the ads are being distributed by youtube -- i bet more people see them there than on TV.

Most of the negative comments here are just signs of Microsoft's current brand problem. I don't imagine any sort of technical arguments would change these people's notion of Microsoft. Perhaps two years worth of funny ads would have a better chance?

Who knows, I imagine that none of us are ad-industry professionals.

worldmikel

September 15, 2008 7:28 PM

I liked "Seinfeld". The reruns are good. Still, I've seen his act. He's a one-trick pony. Luckily he's made enough money to last him his entire life. It's over.

I enjoyed some of Gates's humor over the years. Windows 98 was pretty good in the Second version. Still, his time has come and gone. In our hyper-world, Web 2.0 and all that crap... it is time to move on. These guy's have made their loot, had their time in the sun. It really is time for them to hit the beach. Party's over. Come and gone. Please.

Rest assured I won't be watching parodies or long versions of Microsoft TV commercials. I'm sorry I wasted the minute or more that I spent watching one of these on TV. It is time lost in my life. Time I'll never get back. I won't even click to watch these YouTube things here. Toodles.

walter

September 15, 2008 7:30 PM

These ads are so indescribably bad, it just staggers the imagination. they are about nothing, say nothing, and only reinforce in the minds of everyone that microsoft has no clear idea what it is doing.

On top of that, they manage to showcase all manner of rude, corrupt and ghastly behavior, giving it airplay it really doesn't need. If this is the best they have creatively speaking, well then, I guess it explains quite a lot about Vista.

dcolley

September 15, 2008 8:00 PM

These are the stupidest commercials ever made. If Apple had come up with trash like this they would have been laughed out of town, which is exactly what should be happening to Microsoft. Consumers do not what better marketing campaigns, we want better software. Try spending some money on that.

dcolley

September 15, 2008 8:03 PM

How much did Microsoft pay you to write this article?

dcolley

September 15, 2008 8:05 PM

I think that the Mojave participants like these commercials.

cant u see u lost it

September 15, 2008 8:55 PM

You know why there are just negative comments about the ads.....because of most of the loosers(not developers) who have nothing better to do but linger online and post senseless MS thrashing comments....trying to look cool and smart because they love(or they say) apple/linux(seriously...MS rocks too..)... till date more that 95% machines are PC....and its going to be that way....get aside loosers....bill is here to stay....

Mr. Han

September 15, 2008 9:05 PM

I like it. It's kind of bore about being heard all the time, "I am Mac, I am PC. PC sucks". Personally, I am trying to own Mac, not because of that boring Mac ads, but because of Mac itself. But the ads here we are talking about is not bad. It get me waiting to see "Next". Give me more robots, Bill.

Stefan

September 15, 2008 9:54 PM

I think most of you guys are missing the point of these Microsoft ads. Microsoft isn't trying to sell anything. As evident by the wide responses throughout the global community, both negative and positive, Microsoft has been largely successful in getting you to talk about Microsoft, and that's the point. These ads are so high-brow, that I believe that they're lost on most people - with Microsoft taking subtle stabs at apple, clearly evident in the first ad. In the second ad, they've focused on how they have achieved the mass market recognition, and differentiation from the Apple products, which is their intended selling point. Microsoft has pushed its products to everyone, and not a select few of an already fanatic market segment. The second ad has hinted, that there is more to come from Microsoft and even these ads... so let's try and be objective here. Wait and see what's next before passing judgment... and for the record... these ads are funny, in a nerdy sort of way.

Tony

September 15, 2008 10:34 PM

The Gates ads are better then the window Vista ads they feel real.

The Vista ads remind me of the Pepsi challenge and the Ford challenge they seem staged by a company that is losing market share to a better product. These ads work on people who are usually paid by the company.

"The "Wows” and “OhmyGods” of the real people were enough to send me to the website wondering what I have been missing." written by a sellout aka David Kiley

Josh Reynolds

September 16, 2008 12:26 AM

The right people are getting these ads.
That is what counts. The "Fan Boy" mentality really gets old ("Macs are just better") Oh yawn. Those of us who use both systems know the truth. Grow up. Mac ads are for kids. These ads have you thinking (like it or not) and discussing them, like adults.

nightime

September 16, 2008 2:48 AM

Amy, Windows is not a computer; it's an OS.
I have studied both in engineering and in design. Macs are not used in engineering, engineers on most part are tech savvy. In design I have used Macs extensively and talked to many Mac users about computer issues. I am not lamenting wasted years. My customized PC running on XP is comparatively more sound and gives more bang for the buck. It's a matter of being willing to learn what constitutes a good computer, not what brand to slave ourselves to.

that out of the way, about the commercials. Smart than Mr. Kiley, you are correct in that microsoft is targeting consumers, of whom the majority do not care to bother with the technicalities. Apple does the same. Neither loves their customers more than the cash they rake in.

As far as the advertisements go, they aren't blatantly shoving products in our face and are taking their time. Its a nice change. even if i'm not compelled to go buy a product, it rests that they are mildly amusing.

james

September 16, 2008 2:49 AM

If these ads came out 10years ago people would be roaring, . . now they get to watch the long version of the commercial online, ON THEIR MAC.
Most kids don't even know who Jerry is, I love him and his show, I also love my 4 macs.

Dude

September 16, 2008 3:04 AM

"Bill S.
September 15, 2008 03:21 PM
That's the stupidest commercial I've ever seen. I have no idea what they were trying to sell!?"

Come on Bill, an ad with Bill Gates in it and you don't know what they're trying to sell. Bill Gates alone is the answer. Still, this ad is kinda non-sense. I enjoyed it because "Wow, Bill Gate in in a commercial," and wanna see more only because it's interesting to see Bill Gates on TV.

Chris

September 16, 2008 3:19 AM

The ads put a different face on Bill Gates, but the message is still lame. Microsoft spent a lot hyping Vista then failed to deliver a usable or reliable product. The message seems to be that we should buy because they built it. Why not try to gain some integrity and just develop a real innovative product the runs quickly, is reliable, is easily maintained and uses existing hardware?

Tommy

September 16, 2008 5:34 AM

All I know is that I like the adds. The Mac adds are getting old, I tend to not bother watching them these days

Tom

September 16, 2008 7:22 AM

I love the new Microsoft Ads. I think they are funny and creative. My co-workers and I are having some good laughs talking about them. Like Ideagirl above, I don't understand the anger floating around. I'm not in the Tech industry (I'm in banking - trade finance). May be it's the vigilant IT ppl or Mac users...? I like both the Mac Ads and the Microsoft Ads... I use Vista at work and home - it comes with the computer - it's just more bang for the buck - more memory and disk space and Vista is actually not bad (but then I'm not in tech... so I'm not a pro... just stating what I feel as a regular guy).

Jim C

September 16, 2008 7:51 AM

It still does not make Vista a better O/S than XP's or win 2000 pro. No matter how the ads are put together, Vista's hardware needs (Extra ramm and Video Card) out weigh most peoples bank accounts, not to mention that if your area has only dial up service, your out of luck once again. That will leave a large customer base for advertisers in the dumpster, LOL.
Jim

Poomer

September 16, 2008 8:01 AM

I agree with David K. I like the online ad much better. The first one was a bit cookey though.
MS has not produced garbage in my opinion. XP stuck around and took a beating for 3-4 years. Vista Professional looks better and will do the same for 4 more. You cannot compare Apple with Microsoft. Apple is more of a hardware gadget than software. Microsoft is just a software! Apple vs Orange comparision! :)

Shields

September 16, 2008 8:27 AM

I think they are funny. Reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. The ads are doing just what they are designed to do. Talk about them. Some people are so impatient that they can't wait around for the ending. This isn't a one commercial deal. It is more of a story they are telling. It is like the people who walked out of the first LOTR movie and said, "Man that movie sucked - It didn't even have an ending." Have some patience and let them finish you big whiners.

DecaturHeel

September 16, 2008 9:13 AM

Now, if only Vandelay Industries would hire Jerry to promote their latex products...THAT partnership would rock! "And you want to buy MY latex products."

You know me

September 16, 2008 11:33 AM

Is funny but the ones that hate it are talking about it, and the one that like it are talking about it. IT WORKED PEOPLE!!!!

Dick Plaus

September 16, 2008 11:49 AM

I love these ads. Everyone who says that they are not about Microsoft or have nothing to do with them should look right at a Mac ad. They tell absolutely nothing about the product, yet somehow, work. I think this is a great move.

Mitch

September 16, 2008 11:59 AM

These ad's are succesful simply because they have all of you talking about it.

TimP

September 16, 2008 12:23 PM

Instead of changing the market perception of Vista, why don't they learn from their mistakes and fix it ? The product is bloated, slow, and some features are illogical at best. It also suffers from a confusing marketing strategy. Four variations of an OS ? No, it doesn't suck, and I'm sure it works fine for SOME people. My own experience with it left much to be desired.

Jandler

September 16, 2008 12:30 PM

Re: Amy

I took the challenge. I really like the MAC. Nice and white and glossy. As for the application, it was responsive as they should be. Surfing the web was nice and did not encounter any hiccup.

Oh BTW, did I mentioned I did all that with parallel?

Arnold Johnson

September 16, 2008 12:31 PM

I didn't like Bevis and Butthead, Steve and Bill clones or the Bill and Jerry reality (simulated) show. It amazes me that Bill would try to be a (funny) celeb to the folks his company plunders. If I can laugh with or at him, with Jerry's help, maybe I will continue to accept his strangling embrace. I don't think so!

Jandler

September 16, 2008 12:32 PM

Re: Amy

Oh almost forgot, I also tried Boot Camp too...that worked too.

Mike

September 16, 2008 12:48 PM

This recent ad makes me want to trash my Mac and splurge on a new pair of pleated khaki Dockers.

Loyal PC User

September 16, 2008 1:32 PM

I think these commercials are hilarious. Especially the first one when Bill Gates says “leather…” I love that they are playing up Gates awkwardness in front of a camera and they don’t come across as snarky or pretentious. The fact that they never actually mention or acknowledge Apple is great. I think that is what’s making all the Apple zealots come out of the woodwork to complain and criticize Microsoft because they aren’t stooping to the name calling and one-upmanship that Apple usually deals in.

Brandon Carlos

September 16, 2008 3:57 PM

Yeah, there seems to be an overwhelming majority of folks who don't like Microsofts approach-- I do, though.
I'm a huge Seinfeld fan and the ads are reflective of his humour-- weird, a little misunderstood, everyday.
Some say Gates is trying too hard here, I say he's not trying at all, and that's what's working for me.

Bill

September 17, 2008 3:02 PM

This "episode" has tones of "My Man Godfrey" in it....

An eccentric millionaire is out of touch and gets back to reality by living with hobos. He is taken in by a wealthy family as a butler where performs menial tasks. At one point, the daughter of the family attempts to frame him by hiding a necklace in his bedroom....the family also has a competent, wisecracking maid who could pass for the wrench wielding granny...

Trevor Eiler

September 17, 2008 3:16 PM

I'm astonished that some many of you find these ads terrible. Even being a Mac person, and a creative, I think they did an unbelievable job of captivating the audience, and having a little fun. It's the best I've seen in there attempts to deal with Apple's hilarious commercials. This is smart comedy!

Tom Chuong

September 18, 2008 12:29 AM

This is a step in the right direction. By bringing Gates into the lime light, Microsoft is adding a human element to it's brand. This strategy could work to their advantage as we approach the holiday shopping season.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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