SEATTLE, 5 SEPTEMBER 2008 - Microsoft Corp.'s $300 million advertising campaign for Windows starring comedian Jerry Seinfeld launched Thursday night with an extra-long television commercial almost entirely devoid of any talk of Windows, Microsoft, or anything, really.
That was oddly appropriate, considering Seinfeld's eponymous hit 90s comedy was described by both admirers and detractors as a "show about nothing."
The minute and half commercial (available on YouTube here and elsewhere) is the first of many.
It co-starred Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and was set in a shopping mall. Seinfeld, who did most of the talking, helps Gates buy a pair of shoes called the Conquistador while asking if Gates ever wears his clothes in the shower. The commercial ends with Seinfeld asking Gates if Microsoft will "come out with something that makes our computers moist and chewy like cake so we can just eat them while we're working." Gates wiggles his rear to answer in the affirmative.
The commercial ends with the Windows logo and the phrase "Delicious."
It was aired early during the broadcast of the first National Football League game of the season.
Immediate reaction online was almost uniformly negative, with bloggers calling the commercial baffling and unfunny.
The part that bloggers liked the most was when Gates showed off his 'Shoe Circus Clown Card.' The picture was of Gates' notorious mugshot when he was caught speeding by New Mexico police in 1977 at the age 21.
The commercial lacked the flashy camerawork that is considered the trademark of French director, Michel Gondry. Gondry reportedly shot a Microsoft commercial earlier this summer.
Just a 'teaser'
The ad was a "teaser" to a much longer campaign, said Brad Brooks, corporate vice president for Windows consumer product marketing at Microsoft, in a video interview posted at Microsoft's site.
Microsoft wants to "engage customers in a conversation and dialogue in a humorous and intriguing way," said Brooks, who took over marketing for Windows and Vista in February after a major reorganization.
"We want to re-engage consumers emotionally around the brand, Windows," continued Brooks, "and actually create that emotional connection again -- a connection we've had, and that we want to have again."
Prior to the commercial's airing last night, advertising experts had cast doubt on Microsoft's choice of Seinfeld, suggesting that the 54-year-old comedian's brand of observational humor had become dated and wasn't hip enough to win back Mac defectors, especially youthful ones.
The commercial showed Seinfeld encountering Gates in a discount shoe store at a mall, chatting him up about nonsensical topics such as whether the Microsoft founder wears clothes in the shower, and then asking Gates if Microsoft could make "something that makes our computers moist and chewy like cake so we can just eat them while we're working." Gates wiggles his rear to answer in the affirmative.
The predictably negative immediate reaction by tech bloggers seemed to reaffirm that criticism. But ad experts were also not much more enthused.
Barbara Lippert, a critic for AdWeek magazine, called the ad "beyond bizarre."
"While Gates deserves "extra platinum Big Top Points for being able to make fun of himself (and his reputation for being cheap)... the spot shoots itself in Bill's size 10 Conquistadors several times."
Gates' wiggling his butt to answer Seinfeld's question was a motion that Lippert would "rather not see... that gesture puts a whole new spin on 'multi-tasking.'"
"If Crispin Porter + Bogusky (Microsoft's advertising agency) and Microsoft were going for the oddly creepy or the offputtingly nonsensical, then they've succeeded brilliantly," wrote Steve Hall, publisher of AdRants.com.
But some commentators at Computerworld found the ad surprisingly funny.
"This commercial was funny and interesting," wrote 'HFC' in a post entitled 'It's about image not a product.' "It wasn't directly trying to get you to buy something, it was letting everyone know the company isn't the uptight (yet amusing) business guy that Apple wants us all to believe."
Others said that considering the pre-airing hype, as well as the reflexive cynicism that accompanies almost anything Microsoft does, the ad succeeded as well as could be expected.
"It was a very odd commercial but it has the effect that people are talking about it now... so didn't they get their money's worth?" wrote 'Amanda.'
Microsoft released a statement today admitting that "some may wonder what Jerry Seinfeld helping Bill Gates pick out a new pair of shoes has to do with software. The answer, in the classic Seinfeld sense of the word, is nothing. Nevertheless, the spot is the first and most visible sign of an ambitious effort by Microsoft's Windows business to reconnect with consumers around the globe."
"The new campaign will highlight how Windows has become an indispensible part of the lives of a billion people around the globe -- not only on PCs but also now online and via mobile devices," continued the statement.
To make that concrete, Microsoft is working with Circuit City and Best Buy to roll out "Windows-branded sales environments and store-within-a-store concepts" to compete with Apple Inc.'s highly successful stores. The software maker also said it is collaborating with PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc., Sony Corp. and Lenovo, to improve users' PC experience in some important areas, such as "speeding up startup and shut-down time and sleep and resume speeds."
Hall conceded that it's too early to judge the overall campaign.
"Did anyone actually think the Perdue Chicken commercials were any good when they first came out way back when?" he wrote. "You never really know for sure what's going to work and what isn't. The Gates/Seinfeld pairing could be Microsoft's version of Apple's Mac and PC guys."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.