WTF are these Microsft ads all about?
September 15, 2008 8:43 AM   Subscribe

You're smarter than me, so can you explain what is the point of these Microsoft TV ads featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld?

To me they seem to have no point at all, and are just bloody annoying. They are not part of a new windows launch and if you're already running windows then you are stuck with it, and if you have something else as your OS, you're not likely to change to Windows because of these inane ads.

So WTH do they achieve, apart from using up the Microsoft advertising budget for the rest of the year? I must be really stupid, because I just don't get it (and apparently neither do most of the people I have talked to about this).
posted by 543DoublePlay to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here you are talking about them. They seem to have achieved their goal, no?
posted by nitsuj at 8:49 AM on September 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

They're about rebranding. When your brand is deep in the mud, you don't immediately go "hey, but wait, we're great!", you go softly softly.

There's no sales pitch, it's really just a preamble to "stop hating us, will you?"
posted by bonaldi at 8:49 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

1. They're trying to change the brand association of Microsoft (or, more specifically, Bill Gates, but therefore Microsoft by association) from "Evil monopolist" to "just an average guy".

2. They're leading up to future ads which will actually talk about Microsoft stuff more directly, once point 1 has been achieved.
posted by Mwongozi at 8:50 AM on September 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

The point is to be pointless . . . for now. The commercials have our attention, they're odd and apparently without meaning, and we're all talking about them. That's the point. We're talking about them. We're watching them over and over again on YouTube. We love them or we hate them or we're simply baffled by them. That's all the point.

Later they may move into something more concrete, but right now, by the very fact that you're posting about them here, you're proving that they're doing their job.
posted by jackypaper at 8:50 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Microsoft has been seen as an evil monopolist empire for many years. They're trying to rebrand themselves as endearing, lovable scamps.
posted by chowflap at 8:51 AM on September 15, 2008

I would suspect that their advertising budget is near limitless.
posted by fixedgear at 8:51 AM on September 15, 2008

Or, what Mwongozi said. Jeez!
posted by chowflap at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2008

Previously on the blue.
posted by grouse at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2008

Ehm... Color me surprised, I thought it was rather obvious.

Seinfeld: A TV show about nothing.
Seinfeld MS Ad: A TV ad about nothing.
posted by splice at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

They make Microsoft seem more human. Microsoft doesn't need to work on brand name recognition or anything like that, they just want to seem more "cool", hip, and likable -- like Apple.

I also think they're taking the high road, for now, and not resorting to attacking and making fun of Apple like the Mac/PC guy commercials do.

I think the ads are hilarious in their ridiculousness and like them a lot. Will it work? I have no idea but I look forward to more of the Seinfeld/Gates commercials.

There are also theorists out there who think the commercials have a lot of symbolism in them, but I disagree, I just think its Seinfeld and Larry David type pointless humor.
posted by wolfkult at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2008

Response by poster: Ok, I get the part that I have noticed them, but isn't it defeating the object if Joe Q. Public just switches off either mentally or, like me, actually switches the channel when they come on because I find them so freaking annoying??
posted by 543DoublePlay at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2008

Windows Vista looks only slightly less dead next to Jerry Seinfeld's career but all publicity is good publicity.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:55 AM on September 15, 2008

These articles don't reveal much that hasn't been said already, but if you wanted a reportorial synopsis.

Bill Gates has never been above hamming it up.

Man, that Night at the Roxbury one freaks me out every time I see it.
posted by softsantear at 8:57 AM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

It might be a response to Apple's hip image. I think they are trying to make MS seem all cool-like. I wish they would just skip the sitcom humor and have Bill Gates grow a goatee, wear a beret, and bang on the bongos while reading off a spoken word poem about Vista. Although, he will have to be careful not to wear a mock turtle neck.
posted by MiggySawdust at 9:05 AM on September 15, 2008

In three words - 'Wag the Dog'. If you're focusing on the pointless / mundane side of Windows and NOT focusing on how crappy Vista is (please don't flame, just an opinion), the commercial has done it's job. Sometimes the point of a commercial isn't to sell you something, but to maintain its image and brand name recognition.
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:13 AM on September 15, 2008

Theyre humanizing MS. Most advertising has nothing to do with products. It has everything to do with 'growing the brand.'

The idea is that sure MS is a big company but its founder is just a goofy guy who hangs out with a comedian.

So what if you find them annoying? I suspect most people dont. I watched the 4 minute one last night and laughed. Its like a mini-Seinfeld episode with a Bill Gate guest star.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:18 AM on September 15, 2008

Ok, I get the part that I have noticed them, but isn't it defeating the object if Joe Q. Public just switches off either mentally or, like me, actually switches the channel when they come on because I find them so freaking annoying??

There's two old sayings at work here.

1) All publicity is good publicity.

2) "I don't care what you say about me, as long as you spell my name right."

Which is to say, whether you like them or not, you're talking about them. Perhaps even talking about them to people that have not yet seen them, who may even go seeking them out in order to decide for themselves. Voila! Now you are the advertising vehicle.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:22 AM on September 15, 2008

isn't it defeating the object if Joe Q. Public just switches off either mentally or, like me, actually switches the channel when they come on because I find them so freaking annoying??

That's not necessarily the general reaction though. It's a bit like asking what the point of religion is just because you're an atheist ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 9:28 AM on September 15, 2008

It's random. No planning and no direction. Personally, I think someone pulled the idea out of a random generator figuring 1 famous name plus one famous name equals fame.
posted by watercarrier at 9:30 AM on September 15, 2008

"We're not the giant, unfeeling uber-corporation everyone thinks we are."
posted by Zambrano at 9:32 AM on September 15, 2008

Today's Penny-Arcade Comic sums up what most people this about them I believe.
posted by meowN at 9:35 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you wanted to costar with Jerry Seinfeld, you might have a hard road ahead of you.

It's pretty easy if you have as much money as Bill Gates. I guess he wanted to get into comedy.
posted by yohko at 9:40 AM on September 15, 2008

They make slightly more sense when paired with the other TV campaign they're running, The Mojave Experiment. Basically, they want you to reconsider what you think you know about Microsoft. To Think Different, if you will.

posted by SpiffyRob at 9:58 AM on September 15, 2008

You know, after thinking about it for a while I've come to the conclusion that the first ad is mainly about countering the unfortunate subtext of the very name 'Microsoft' which probably came closest to surfacing in the collective consciousness in a spate of jokes in very poor taste around the time of Bill Gates' wedding and honeymoon.

Gates is getting fitted for a pair of shoes, invoking the persistent folk belief in the correlation of shoe size and penis size, which is made very surprisingly almost explicit by the Latino couple when the mother says 'Is that the Conquistador?' referring explicitly to the shoe, but subliminally to Gates' endowments, and the man replies something like 'they run tight'.

And then, all that is confirmed when Gates has to very obviously adjust himself as he and Seinfeld walk away, implying that something very substantial is involved.

If this is what they're doing, it amazes me Microsoft thinks their problems are due to being identified with relative underendowment, or at least that they think their problems can be addressed by identifying themselves with the opposite.
posted by jamjam at 10:35 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've seen lots of brands do this kind of brand marketing over the years. Pointless, heartwarming (or not) commercials that are really just to change/enhance/reinforce the brand image. But people are noticing this time because A) Seinfeld is a big name B) they created buzz around the commercials before they aired because Seinfeld is a big name.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:02 AM on September 15, 2008

The theme is connecting with ordinary people. They're essentially demonstrating that they care about regular Joes, and helping regular Joes connect with others. It's a very soft sell, of course, but that's what's going on.
posted by YoungAmerican at 11:35 AM on September 15, 2008

I think they're very short Seinfeld episodes, but without Elaine, Kramer and George.
In other words, not that funny.
Weird, but not funny.
posted by willmize at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2008

It's a very soft sell, of course, but that's what's going on.

And in the one where they stay at the people's house, it's explicitly the point.
posted by smackfu at 5:29 PM on September 15, 2008

So basically the message is that Windows is the operating system for the rest of us?
posted by grouse at 5:36 PM on September 15, 2008

To me they seem to have no point at all, and are just bloody annoying much the same vein as User Account Control Annoyed Constantly, the Microsoft update treadmill, restrictive license agreements, Windows Genuine Advantage, product activation generally, Clippit and the other vestiges of Microsoft Bob, a local filesystem search facility that calls home, and so on and so forth... these pointless advertisements are all of a piece with all the other pointless crap that Windows users are constantly being conditioned to tolerate and consider as normal.

Keep watching the advertisements. After a while, you will find they're not so annoying after all. Kind of soothing, in fact. It's comforting to know you're watching the same advertisements as 90% of the rest of the computing population. All is well. Do not question the status quo. Do not consider changing your computing environment. Low level annoyance is normal and inevitable.

Toxic sludge is good for you.
posted by flabdablet at 6:33 PM on September 15, 2008

duh, the point is exactly this – dialogue .
posted by pmaxwell at 7:06 PM on September 15, 2008

Apple advertising is effective, clever, and likeable (even more so in England where they have David Mitchell and Robert Webb). Microsoft combats this with inane ads that have no point at all, summing up the company's entire existence. But add Jerry Seinfeld as the celebrity spokesperson, and it's gimmickry at its best! No doubt Bill Gates wanted to piggyback on the amazing success of Jerry Seinfeld's horrible Bee Movie Juniors (those pointless ads that had nothing to do with Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie that interrupted 30 Rock and The Office).
posted by Mael Oui at 9:27 PM on September 15, 2008

A slightly different take on this. The rich are different from you and me. Bill Gates watched all those Seinfeld episodes as a youngster and decided that he would like to be on tv. Bill Gates gets his ex company to pay so he can work or play with Jerry Seinfeld. This satisfies his lifelong desire and doesn't cost him anything. Win win situation for Bill Gates and his kids, they get to see him on tv as a typical dad role model.
posted by ptm at 6:01 AM on September 17, 2008

...and the campaign is put out of its misery. So apparently even Microsoft couldn't discern a point to the ads.
posted by jbrjake at 7:39 AM on September 18, 2008

You may find some answers in this NY Times article.

For the click impaired, the key quote seems to be:
Apple executives have been “using a lot of their money to de-position our brand and tell people what we stand for,” said David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.

“They’ve made a caricature out of the PC,” he added, which was unacceptable because “you always want to own your own story.”

The campaign illustrates “a strong desire” among Microsoft managers “to take back that narrative,” Mr. Webster said, and “have a conversation about the real PC.”
The Seinfeld / Gates ads were just "teasers" for the real campaign, to build buzz.
posted by dersins at 9:34 AM on September 18, 2008

Like every Microsoft buzz-building exercise I've ever seen, they appear to have built thud instead.
posted by flabdablet at 7:36 PM on September 18, 2008

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