Groking the Microsoft Seinfeld Campaign: Round Two

It’s not often that a tech firm has advertising as memorable and effective as the Apple “1984” ad. Now Microsoft is attempting it – and taking a significant risk in the process.
Posted September 12, 2008
By

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle


If you’re like most people, you’re still scratching your head a little bit after seeing the second Microsoft-Seinfeld spot, with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld visiting some interesting people (the grandmother is classic) and talking about little that seems to have to do with Microsoft or Vista.

You probably still don’t get what is actually going on. But search on the words Microsoft and Seinfeld and you’ll see that there are a massive number of sites suddenly talking about the ads and trying to make sense of them.

Most don’t realize that these are only teaser ads, intended only to get people talking and, despite the commentary, they are actually exceeding the expectations that were set for this phase of the Microsoft campaign.

One of the reasons you probably don’t get what is going on is that, outside of movies, this technique is rarely used these days because few folks have the skill set or the patience to carry a campaign like this out. This includes weathering the initial criticism largely based on expectations that were set based on more traditional, and less innovative, projects.

Really only Budweiser does good themed campaigns anymore and even they don’t do teasers. But then they don’t really have to because their campaigns have been some of the best in the advertising business for years. They even make Apple look like novices.

Microsoft isn’t attempting Apple-level marketing, they are attempting Budweiser-level marketing and that is both vastly more difficult and potentially record setting for a tech company, let alone Microsoft. Recall that Apple is the only company that ever beat Budweiser with their 1984 ad. Unfortunately, they then followed it with one of the worst ads ever run, the Lemming ad, and never took that level risk ever again. Budweiser does this every year (the best actually have brought a tear to my eye).

The Reason for a Teaser

We expect Budweiser ads to be great and so, when we see one of their great ads, we are already primed to be impressed. Microsoft has historically not even been in Apple’s league and some of us can recall campaigns they were part of like, Digital Joy, which even made the infamous Apple Lemming Ad look good. (Digital Joy turned out to be a porn site in Europe).

This means that Microsoft can’t just jump in and try to hit a home run. They have to prime the pump as it were and get the audience thinking differently about Microsoft. This is why Seinfeld was chosen: he has one outstanding skill and it isn’t his humor. It is, as demonstrated by his long running and incredibly successful TV show, the ability to get people to talk about what he shows. For the years his show ran, that show was the talk at water coolers in most of the companies across the U.S. and the ending show set a record of watchers who talked about even it for weeks afterwards.

For the initial teaser ads, which should end shortly, the only goal is to get people watching and talking about what they see so they are primed to expect something different than they’ve ever seen before from Microsoft. If they pull this off – and honestly I can’t actually think of any company that has done something like this in this fashion – they will have done something amazing.

The closest was IBM’s Monk and Nun ads in the early 90s when the firm was desperately, and successfully, changing IBM’s image. But even IBM didn’t use teasers; they jumped right into the meat of the campaign.

History Being Made?

It is not often you see anyone trying anything, particularly in advertising this different. That is because, if it doesn’t work, the failure will be visible to everyone. But if it does work, this will be a new textbook entry on how to turn around the image of a company and product.

It is also not often that a firm – any firm – actually does something that could be as memorable and effective as that one Apple 1984 ad. The odds are that Microsoft will fall short of that goal because, were it easy, someone else would have bypassed that famous spot years ago.

But there is the possibility that this campaign could rival Budweiser’s best work, once it is complete, and certainly be one of the best efforts from any technology company. We often accuse Microsoft of not being innovative or taking real risks, well, in this instance they are taking a huge risk to try to do both. And while they may fail (and the odds are against them), if they succeed they’ll make history and that, my friends, we don’t get to see made that often.

Realize even the founder of the company, still the richest and most powerful single man in the market, is taking a personal risk he doesn’t have to take here. That alone makes this historic. It took a lot of guts to take a risk like this, regardless of anything else, you have to admire that.

This will be an interesting few months.




Tags: search, Microsoft, IBM, Vista


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