Humanize Microsoft? That’s impossible!

Anyone who isn’t talking about how dumb Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was in her interview (and that’s a lot of people) seems to be talking about the new Microsoft ad with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, and how they don’t get it. Mike Arrington doesn’t get it, and neither does my friend Mark Evans, to name just two. I think John Furrier comes close to the truth when he says that Mike not getting it is a sign that it’s working, because it’s not aimed at geeks. And part of what makes it hard to get is that it isn’t even about Windows, or Microsoft for that matter. Like Seinfeld, it’s not really about anything.

I made a marketing expert friend of mine mad recently when she said that the marketing professionals she knew didn’t like the original ad — and thought Microsoft was getting taken to the cleaners by its ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky — because it was a dumb idea, or at least not a smart one. I tried to make the point that I don’t think Microsoft cares whether she and her marketing colleagues think the campaign is “smart” or not. They aren’t the target market any more than Mike Arrington is. I think whoever put these together is really just trying to humanize a giant company, and that’s a tough assignment.

Seinfeld may not be all that funny in these ads, but then it’s tough to do his shtick without some energetic foils like George Costanza or Kosmo Kramer — and let’s face it, Bill Gates is no George Costanza. He has zero energy onscreen (hey, if he needs energy, he pays people to generate energy for him). But still, the idea as I see it is just to make fun of the fact that Bill is a billionaire and he’s kind of clueless and out of touch (and to get some buzz as well, do doubt), and Seinfeld is a great choice for that kind of ad. He’s filthy rich, and yet many people still see him as the sneaker-wearing funny guy and they love him.

When it comes right down to it, I like these ads better than Apple’s celebrated ads with the Mac guy and the PC guy. They may radiate “cool” and “hip,” but the fact is that the Mac guy comes off as a snotty, arrogant little twerp. Most people I know — even those who adore Apple products — seem to sympathize with the PC character, who by contrast is genuinely likable. To me, the Apple ads are a total failure, and yet I don’t think anyone really cares, because Apple’s products are so great that they effectively market themselves.

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