Seinfeld ads end as MS to reclaim 'I'm a PC' slur from Apple

Microsoft says Seinfeld ads just a precursor to real campaign.

The long, oft-baffling "teaser ads" by Microsoft featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates that kicked off two weeks ago are abruptly ending, the company said late Wednesday, as part two of its US$300 million Windows marketing rehab campaign begins.

Carrying the theme "Windows. Life without walls," the new ads will show Microsoft "audaciously embracing" the phrase "I'm a PC" -- which some say has been tarnished by Apple's ads the past two years -- in order to rehabilitate it, reported The New York Times.

One of the new commercials will even show a real Microsoft engineer who is a ringer for John Hodgman, the actor who plays the abused PC character in the Apple ads, introducing himself: "Hello, I'm a PC, and I've been made into a stereotype," according to the Times.

Apple has been "using a lot of their money to de-position our brand and tell people what we stand for," a Microsoft brand marketing manager told the Times . Microsoft wants "to take back that narrative," he continued, and "have a conversation about the real PC."

More than 60 Microsoft employees will appear in the ads, along with their e-mail addresses. Bill Gates, who was in the controversial first two ads, will show up in the subsequent ones, along with celebrities such as actress Eva Longoria, author Deepak Chopra and hip-hop singer Pharrell Williams.

The counterattack strategy is typical for the ad agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, behind the campaign. One ad for its successful campaign for Burger King portrays a high-calorie meal as a rebellious personal choice for its target audience of young men, reported the Times .

That's far different from the two semi-surreal, lengthy ads -- one 1.5 minutes long, the other 4.5 minutes long -- that appeared on American television on consecutive Thursdays earlier this month.

The first showed Gates and Seinfeld meeting each other in a shoe store while engaging in nonsensical conversation, the highlight of which was Seinfeld's request that Microsoft create something that makes computers "moist and chewy, like cake."

Last week's four-and-a-half minute ad, cut down and aired in two parts on CBS on Thursday and Friday nights, depicted Seinfeld and Gates intruding upon an average suburban American family's home life.

Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag was the first to report on Wednesday that Seinfeld would not appear in the new ads.

It, along with many other blogs, saw the disappearance of Seinfeld -- who was reportedly paid US$10 million -- as the comedian being booted for failing to relate to consumers.

Also, the lack of a smooth transition ad linking the two phases of the campaign seems to imply that some already-filmed ads starring Seinfeld are being scuttled because of negative reaction to the first two.

Assuming that is "not really correct," wrote Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw, in an e-mail. He pointed to the Times' article, which quotes a market research firm hired by Microsoft as claiming to find that nearly two-thirds of the blog posts and comments about the ads were positive, as well as a Microsoft press release last week that said "very soon, the campaign will turn toward communicating specifically about the Windows brand and the products that carry the Windows flag."

However, that ratio would seem to be at odds with the ratio of positive to negative comments by Computerworld.com readers, especially after the first commercial.

Besides the TV ads, Microsoft is adding content to windows.com, creating a related site called lifewithoutwalls.com, and placing magazine and billboard ads depicting how Windows is used for mobile devices, TV sets and laptops, according to the Times. It's also training 155 "Windows Gurus" to work in US electronics retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City to help market Microsoft's software.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld (US)
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