Seinfeld and Microsoft: more proof that IT is crazy

Trying to repair the market"s perception of Vista by being funny is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic . . . as it sinks.

The IT world has a certain level of craziness that is remarkable, and nowhere does it show up more than in how various companies market their products. I have all sorts of examples to illustrate this, but given that I have limited space I'm going to concentrate on what I consider to be the 800-pound gorilla of marketing crazy: Microsoft.

A couple of days ago it was announced that Microsoft had retained the services of comedian Jerry Seinfeld for the princely, no, kingly sum of US$10 million. For this insane amount of cash Seinfeld will appear in a $300 million series of commercials rumored to revolve around the slogan "Windows, Not Walls."

According to various sources the whole "Windows, Not Walls" gambit is about the need to (and I definitely quote) "break down barriers that prevent people and ideas from connecting" (I feel bilious just typing that). One can easily guess the role that Microsoft wants us to think that Windows might play in such a brave new whirl. Just the idea that anyone could think of pitching Windows as being such a powerful facilitator of communications defies belief.

The impetus for this planned bout of rabid, unashamed, spin doctoring has been the dismal market perception and performance of Microsoft's Vista operating system.

Apparently Seinfeld will appear in some of the ads with that great stand-up comedian Bill Gates. As many commentators have pointed out, there's a serious level of craziness involved in hiring a comedian who peaked in the '90s as the pitchman because the real opinion makers (that's you, dear readers) aren’t going to be swayed by a few laughs into changing their opinions.

To recycle an old joke, trying to repair the market"s perception of Vista by being funny is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic . . . as it sinks. (No, don't write in to tell me that you're happy with Vista. You're not. You just think you are. You have swallowed Redmond's blue pill.)

Anyway, it also doesn't take a genius to guess that the campaign will also tout the results of Microsoft's recent and pompously named "Mojave Experiment."

In case you missed this also crazy (and lame) marketing exercise, it involved the punking of 120 noobs in San Francisco by giving them a 10-minute demo of what they were told was a forthcoming Microsoft operating system called Mojave. Of course the operating system was actually Vista and the results as measured and interpreted by Microsoft gave Mojave an approval rating of nearly double that of Vista. Wow. I'm convinced, aren't you?

Wait a minute . . . convinced of what? That we've all just got it wrong and our perception of Vista is based on unfair prejudice? That a noob's response to a slick 10-minute demo is a fair way to evaluate public perception of something as complex as an operating system? No, I don't know about you but I'm convinced that Microsoft thinks we're all so gullible that we'd be taken in by their blatant spin doctoring. The company is truly crazy.

Now before I go any further I just have to make it clear that I don't hate Microsoft. In fact, I use and love (and hate) many of their products every day. My problem with Microsoft stems from what I see as the company's repeated failure over the last 30 years to behave honorably, fairly and, most importantly, with the care for building excellent software that one would hope for from the most important player ever in the PC market.

But as I've commented before, Microsoft isn’t solely to blame for what it has become. Nope, the truth is that we created the monster. We wanted the Kool-Aid Microsoft was selling as cheap as possible and we failed to be as critical and demanding as we should have been when we found problems. We purchased good enough because it was cheap enough. Shame on us.Then again, I guess that just goes to show that we really are crazy.

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Mark Gibbs

Network World
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