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Seinfeld – Microsoft ads: Everyone else is too stupid to understand

September 23, 2008

I’ve been holding off talking about the new Microsoft ad campaign designed to change public perceptions about the company and, in particular, about Vista.  I wanted to see where Microsoft was going with these ads before I formed an opinion.  The problem is, Microsoft has caved to a bunch of people who are less intelligent than them and pulled some of their best ads featuring Jerry Seinfeld.

If you take a look around most technology blogs, their forums are riddled with people who HATE the Bill Gates – Jerry Seinfeld ads.  These people claim that the ads are a failure because they don’t even mention Vista.  The problem is, these people aren’t intelligent enough to understand that not mentioning Vista is kind of the whole point of these ads.  These forum posters already have a bad opinion of Microsoft and it seems to make them angry that they aren’t smart enough to figure out the point of these commercials.  It’s like a child who throws a temper tantrum because they can’t solve a simple puzzle.  It’s too difficult for their brains and instead of stepping up to the challenge presented to their minds, they simply give up and whine.

Microsoft has been riding a massive wave of negative public opinion for years despite owning a roughly 90% market share in operating systems worldwide.  Microsoft knows this.  Microsoft wants to change that.  They see how Apple’s fans are violently loyal to their messiah, Steve Jobs.  They see how Apple fans connect with Apple on an emotional level as well as a technological level.  Microsoft wants some fans like that.  Microsoft wants to humanize their image.

The first wave of the entire ad campaign, which involved Gates and Seinfeld doing normal, everyday activities, was designed specifically to do this.  Seinfeld wasn’t hired to hock Vista.  He was hired to be fucking Jerry Seinfeld.  The man starred in the most popular sitcom of all time and it was notoriously a show “about nothing”.  These ads were designed to follow that same philosophy.  They weren’t about Vista.  They were designed just to get people to see Bill Gates outside of Microsoft.  Bill Gates is the face of Microsoft.  He IS Microsoft every bit as much as Steve Jobs is Apple, Inc.  When people see Bill Gates, they think Microsoft.  Microsoft wanted to get people to see their humble leader as something other than a ruthless, driven businessman.  They wanted to show people that they can be goofy and off-the-wall, too.  Microsoft doesn’t want to be a faceless, corporate bully.  If they can humanize Bill Gates and show that he’s someone who can laugh at himself, they can humanize Microsoft.  They wanted to connect with people by just making something that wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.  These first ads were never designed to sell Vista.  That’s why there are no Vista slogans or logos anywhere.  They don’t mention Vista.  It’s not some stupid, run-of-the-mill, in-your-face ad screaming, “BUY VISTA!  IT’S GOOD!”.

Unfortunately, because it wasn’t completely spelled out for the viewing audience, the viewers didn’t have enough intelligence to read between the lines.  They didn’t see a direct sales pitch, and since they can’t think outside the box, for lack of a better expression, they got angry.  But they didn’t get angry at themselves.  They didn’t try to better themselves by trying to understand the impetus behind the ads.  They didn’t try to see the big picture, of which these Seinfeld ads form only a small part.  Instead, they projected their own feelings of mental inadequacy on to Microsoft and outwardly lambasted the company for these ads in every public forum in which they could blab.  “They didn’t even mention Vista!  FAIL!”  Guess what, dim bulb, selling Vista wasn’t the point of these ads.  The ads directly aimed at Vista would come later with the whole Mojave Experiment ad and the “I’m a PC” ad.  The Seinfeld ads were simply one facet in an overall ad CAMPAIGN.  You don’t win a war by fighting one battle.  The war is won by the cumulative wins of multiple battles.  The Seinfeld ads were one battle, and that battle was against general public perception of Microsoft as a company.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure there were quite a few people who DID understand this was just one portion of the overall campaign, and even still, they just didn’t like the commercials.  They may not have found them funny.  They may not even care for Seinfeld or Gates all that much.  That’s fine.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  My big gripe is not with these people.  My gripe is with the people who misunderstood the purpose behind the Seinfeld ads and then ripped Microsoft for being a failure at advertising.  And then they go on and post articles to their shitty tech sites stating that the ads are failures with critics, and yet they don’t even have any real data to back that up.  For instance, read this article by Lalee Sadighi at RedHerring.com.  The whole point of the article is that critics hate the Microsoft commercials, but there isn’t a single shred of evidence presented in the article to back up that statement.  The only quotation in the article is this:

“Microsoft’s new spot from Crispin is an ad about nothing … a classic Crispin Porter oddity, and the software maker can only hope that the weird exchange between Messrs. Gates and Seinfeld can garner the kind of buzz that Its peculiar iteration of the Burger King mascot did for the fast feeder,” ad industry publication Advertising Age wrote.

While that’s not a glowing review, it’s not negative by any means.  Advertising Age simply states that Microsoft can only hope that they get the same kind of public reactions that an earlier Burger King campaign had received.  Wow!  That must mean that critics hate the ad!  Good job, Lalee Sadighi.  Next time you’re going to make accusations, try putting actual, factual data in your article to back up your anti-Microsoft rant.

And to practice what I preach, here is some data from research firms that have monitored public opinion of Microsoft since the ads hit:

  • YouGovPolimetrix’s BrandIndex “Buzz” score for the ad dropped 36% overall from its early September high, but it remains positive overall.”  (emphasis is mine)  (source)
  • “The Buzz score for 35- to-49-year-olds registered nearly 7 on Sept. 4 when the ad broke, but rose to 23 within 10 days, compared with 18- to-34- year-olds, which registered a score of 9, dropping to minus 1 a few days later. It confirms that the younger crowd was less impressed with the ad.  Marzilli says the advertisements have been talked up in the media, which is probably the reason that on Sept. 8 the Buzz score for 18- to-34-year-olds reversed, rising to 11.”  (source)

  • “Backing that theory up are figures from another company, Zeta Interactive, which claim that in the first 12 days of the campaign 63% of online comments were positive.”  (source)

YouGovPolimetrix’s “Buzz” score is based on people who have heard positive or negative things about a company in recent days.  Some of you may think this is a flawed method.  It doesn’t measure if the people who were polled thought a brand was positive or negative themselves, but simply confirmed that they had heard positive or negative things about a brand recently.  You may think that data is completely unimportant but then you’d be misjudging the power of psychological influences in the general public.  For instance, I know that positive or negative comments affect me when I go see a movie.  If I hear great things about a movie, I go into that movie with higher expectations and I am generally more receptive to the themes presented in the movie.  When I hear negative things, I tend to be much more critical in my viewing, looking for flaws.  Now, I try very hard not to let reviews or comments affect my movie viewing as I feel that basing my opinion of a movie on the opinions of others is disingenuous.  I want to form my own opinions.  But, I recognize that I’m human and positive or negative influences do affect my overall enjoyment. If the Seinfeld ads have produced a mild climb in positive attitudes toward Microsoft, this can have a viral effect. If someone continues to hear positive things about a company, that person should tend to have an overall positive attitude toward that company.

It’s simply too bad that Microsoft has bowed down to the dirty, unwashed masses and yanked the ads before they had a chance to get started.  Because the tech forums got their panties in such a bunch over the ads, Microsoft moved their plans forward.  They went ahead with the “Mojave Experiment” ad and the “I’m a PC” ad, I think, before they really wanted to.  In my opinion, they probably wanted the Seinfeld ads to play for a few months, helping to bring Microsoft down from Mt. Olympus and into the ordinary person’s living room.  Then, after the company had some good vibes surrounding it, they would ride that wave with the “I’m a PC” ad, targeted directly at Apple, which has run some of the worst, most deceptive commercials in recent history (a topic for another post…).  Microsoft simply wanted to remind people that the 1970s view of the computer nerd is gone.  It’s not just pudgy, bespectacled squares who use PCs, as Apple would have you believe.  Microsoft wanted to fight back against that incredibly stupid stereotype.  After fighting the stereotyping and trying to humanize the company, Microsoft could then have a better, stronger footing on which to attempt to change some opinions about Vista by running the Mojave experiment ads.

For those not familiar with the Mojave experiment, Microsoft took several people behind closed doors and showed them a secret preview of the next version of Windows, code-named Mojave.  What the people didn’t know was that they were actually simply playing around with Vista.  When it was revealed that they hadn’t been viewing the next-gen OS at all, but rather playing with Vista, the people were pleasantly shocked, with one person even stating something to the effect of, “Don’t listen to opinions.  You have to use it for yourself to decide.”

Most Vista-haters and/or Apple fans have jumped on the Mojave experiment saying that these people were only shown a 15 minute preview of the OS, so their opinions aren’t worth anything because they didn’t really get a chance to use it for everyday tasks.  I’m not here to debate the validity of the Mojave experiment.  This post is about the ad campaign that Microsoft is trying to run.  By slowly changing public perception of the company and then removing the stupid Apple/PC stereotype, Microsoft could have used the Mojave experiment ads as a way to get people to take another look at Vista.  Many people are holding off upgrading their systems simply because they have heard negative things about Vista.  That’s what Microsoft was trying to address here.  While the Mojave experiment itself may have been a bit rigged, it’s message is incredibly brilliant.  Microsoft isn’t telling people that Vista is so much better than OS X or Linux.  The message presented in that commercial was simply, “Make up your own mind.  Don’t rule Vista out just because you’ve read a few bad things.”  That’s it.  It wasn’t an Apple-bashing commercial.  In fact, I have to praise Microsoft for taking the high road, when Apple is more than happy to hit below the belt.  While Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” commercial is a direct attack on the Apple ads, it never mentions Apple, or any shortcomings of Apple products.  It is just trying to show that the stereotype presented in the Apple commercials is bullshit.

So, to end this post, I will say it again:  I hate that Microsoft pulled their Seinfeld ads simply because a small number of dim-witted individuals are desperately trying to justify the fact that they just spent $2500 for a MacBook Pro when they could have spent about half that and gotten the same hardware in a Dell or Lenovo.  It’s too bad.  Finally a company came up with an ad that was worth watching, but because it actually attempted to get people to use their heads (GASP!), it got bad press and dropped.  And these same idiots gobble up the hypocritical Apple vs. PC ads.  The lowest common denominator wins again…

This post will probably offend some of you, but this is how I feel about the issue.  I just think most people got it wrong.  I don’t mind the people who got it right, but hated the commercials anyway.  Everyone deserves their opinion.  Do you think I’m wrong?  Let me know in the comments, but please, don’t just say, “You’re an idiot!” and move on.  If you think I’m wrong, let me know and give a nice valid argument.  I like to hear differing viewpoints.

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