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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

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Sun 07
Sep
2008

The Ad About Nothing

What Max Reckons Microsoft has a new ad! And experts are divided over whether the quirky, banter-heavy, no-need-to-mention-a-product spot is 90 seconds of pure Seinfeldian genius, or a sad demonstration of what you get when you try to advertise something that has no selling points.

Well, when I say “divided:” Microsoft thinks it’s pretty neat, and everybody else seems underwhelmed. In the face of this howling gale of criticism, Microsoft has responded: That’s just what we wanted! The ad is just a “teaser,” they say, meant to “get the conversation going.”

The Associated Press picked up this idea, ending its article with:

Even if the reaction was mostly negative, Microsoft’s ad has clearly succeeded in getting people talking.

And it popped up in lots of other places, too:

“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.’

I wonder when we can kill the idea that even colossal marketing blunders are secretly brilliant, since they at least got people’s attention. Because it sounds like I’m being asked to believe Microsoft deliberately blew $300 million as a strategic move to get everybody talking about what a waste of money that was. That must have been some pitch meeting. “Here’s our idea: a series of pointless, meandering ad spots that don’t actually promote your product, but spark worldwide debate about what the hell you thought you were trying to accomplish. Everyone will be talking about it!”

Presumably this firm would go on to promote Presidential candidates by having them drown puppies on live TV. You can’t beat that kind of exposure.

Personally, I don’t mind this ad. It’s the introduction of a long campaign; they’re just warming up. I’m prepared to believe it will be effective and entertaining. But if it sucks, that won’t mean it’s genius in disguise. It’ll just mean it sucks.

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Stygian Emperor (#2947)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "Hope is but the first step down the path to disappointment."
Posted: 2244 days ago

Did you ever consider that maybe the future of Microsoft *will* be a delicious one?

Robert (#413)

Location: Los Angeles
Quote: "A positive attitude will not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."
Posted: 2244 days ago

This post sucked, but at least it got me to leave a comment.

/kidding

Abgrund (#3357)

Location: Atlantis
Quote: ""Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority." - Ayn Rand"
Posted: 2244 days ago

It's often said that the purpose of advertising is simply to get your attention and make you remember the product, and for most products it's true that any attention is good attention. This is NOT true of Microsoft. Microsoft doesn't need to make anyone aware of its existence, and the less people talk about Microsoft and its products the better off Microsoft is.

Mincetro (#584)

Quote: "This isn't skiing"
Posted: 2244 days ago

I actually kind of liked it, everyone paints Microsoft pictured as a big faceless monopoly - they're trying to re-paint it as a normal company full of normal, hard-working, cake loving individuals with a sense of humor and humility.
It isn't about products, it's about image, in the same way Apples ads advertise their style over their products (not talking about pricing or features, just that their stuff is stylish, fast and fun), or the recent Olympics McDonalds ads (families and friends together, happiness, the future instad of lumps of protein).
It's an old duck, but it flys

mathew shember (#2063)

Location: San Jose, California
Quote: "Enlitenment comes from knowing you are an idiot"
Posted: 2243 days ago

Microsoft had an ad? I thought I saw Seinfeld and Gates but I just hit the channel changer and moved on.

Will I now look for it? No. Will I stop and watch? Probably not.

I don't buy things because of an ad on TV.....

John Reynolds (#2534)

Location: New York, USA
Posted: 2243 days ago

I like this commercial. With the amount of car commercials I take in everyday, I can never remember what commercials go with which cars anyway. At least this commercial made me laugh instead of bombarding me with the fact that this truck "has a hemi."

Linnea1928 (#2654)

Location: Rosemount, MN
Posted: 2243 days ago

I agree, I like this commercial because it isn't in my face, trying to get me to buy something I surely don't need.

Altho, for some inexplicable reason, I really want a churro right now.

John Reynolds (#2534)

Location: New York, USA
Posted: 2243 days ago

We've figured it out! It's a churro commercial!!!

Rob Menke (#1723)

Location: Los Angeles, CA USA
Quote: "Los Angeles is like a tar pit: you think you're just passing through, but you'll end up staying... forever."
Posted: 2243 days ago

The problem with the ad is that it won't tell you what they are trying to say, and that annoys the hell out of most viewers. Remember those car commercials with Jonathan Pryce where they wouldn’t show the car that they were actually trying to sell? The other famous Barry had a field day writing about the violent hatred of those ads. I’m sure that deep in the collective subconscious of CP+B was the thought that they could ape the popular Taster’s Choice commercials of last decade; the difference was that the Taster’s Choice couple *actually used the damn product* in the commercials.

Comparing the Apple to Microsoft ads is an interesting exercise, and the broad appeal of the Apple ads outside of the technorati compared to the universal head-scratching that the Microsoft ad produced is telling. To me, it all breaks down to the first spoken line of each: “I’m a Mac” versus “Discount shoes? Bill Gates!” Apple is up-front about selling a *product* while Microsoft is less forthcoming about trying to sell you a *person*. It’s a periphrastic way of improving your company’s image at best.

All the ad has done has sparked a rambling conversation about advertising: it has done nothing to improve the perception of Microsoft or the Vista product. If anything, it has done more damage: people are going to wonder exactly *why* Microsoft would rather celebrate Gates than talk about Vista; could it be that Vista is possibly worse than they’ve heard?

Coley (#2323)

Location: USA
Quote: "I was walking home one night and a guy hammering on a roof called me a paranoid little weirdo. In morse code"
Posted: 2243 days ago

A computer that makes curros!!! My dream come true! Thank you Microsoft.

Greg Karber (#1568)

Location: gregkarber.com
Posted: 2243 days ago

I loved the ad. It's Jerry Seinfeld! And Bill Gates!

Come on, people. It's at least a little funny. Just the concept itself is hilarious: Jerry Seinfeld is walking around, minding his business, when he sees Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, shopping for shoes at a discount store. So, naturally, he goes inside to check it out.

People forget that Seinfeld isn't new to this. A few years ago, he was in a series of short-film ads for American Express where he played the pal of a cartoon Superman (who I think was voiced by Patrick Warburton, also from "Seinfeld"). They were funny, or at least amusing, and you only felt a little slimy at the end when Jerry's American Express card saved the day.

So I agree with Max and a few other posters, especially Mencetro, who made the good point of Microsoft's desire to humanize the company's image. Cool stuff. Fun to think about.

Machine Man subscriber V (#3431)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "It is a mockery of divine justice to believe that a saint and a sinner are on level terms from the moment they die"
Posted: 2243 days ago

I just showed the add to my mum.

"Arn't they selling shoes?"

So... there you go.

Personally, I think it's interesting that Bill Gates is a "10". "He's a ten!" claims Seinfeld. The perfect score.

Tommy Mandel (#2554)

Location: nYc
Quote: ""You want me to sign this now?""
Posted: 2243 days ago

I thought the ad was embarassing. Seinfeld wasn't particularly funny, even for him, and the best of it was Gates' muted tush-salute at the end.
I think the two dudes were so hyped up by their minions that they thought that anything they did would be amusing.
Thanks, Max, for blowing the whistle on the Emperors' New Clothes (sorry for the mixed metaphor.)

signed, TM.
( Jennifer G's in the loo, and everytime I visit there, I reread a few more pages. Now THAT's amusing ! ! ! ! )

Jennifer M. Dambeck (#3061)

Location: NJ, USA
Quote: "Rock on"
Posted: 2243 days ago

Re: Presidential campaigns and “Here’s our idea: a series of pointless, meandering ad spots that don’t actually promote your product . . ."

That's pretty much politics in less than 20 words. A face a name, warm fuzzies, and no substance.

I'm looking for a third party, I like Libertarians

Sophie (#891)

Location: Devon
Posted: 2242 days ago

That advert seems to be hinting that Microsoft are going to open a new shoe shop franchise, and are planning on giving away a free Jerry Seinfeld with every purchase. (...this will work if they only have one customer.)

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 2241 days ago

That's one scary, one very sick, ad. I can't sleep after seeing Bill Gates wiggle his rear end at the camera. Nightmares, such terrible nightmares... And I keep thinking of the $10M Seinfeld's getting, I just wanna scream "I'll do it for two million dudes!"

Machine Man subscriber Stygian Emperor (#2947)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "Hope is but the first step down the path to disappointment."
Posted: 2238 days ago

Oh jeebus they've made another one.

AAlgar (#3459)

Location: Seattle
Quote: ""Don't put your lips on anything.""
Posted: 2232 days ago

Never mind the long campaign. Apparently they're not making any more.

Shola (#3688)

Location: Elsewhere.
Quote: "I know I'm cool."
Posted: 2232 days ago

I never see Microsoft adverts. Ever. I just know it's there. Do they ever have a marketing section in the company?

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 2229 days ago

Actually this ad may have some basis of truth. Gates has been eating at the same burger joint for the past 30 years, so I can believe it.

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