Microsoft’s sincerity

Microsoft recently started airing new ads featuring Bill Gates and, in a perhaps somewhat curious twist, Jerry Seinfeld. Curious because Seinfeld was a Mac user on his show, but I guess if Apple can put a Mac user on TV as “PC”, Microsoft feels they can (or should) do something similar.

However, when the first ad started airing my initial thought to it was, in less subtle and more colorful terms: “what on Earth is this supposed to say?” The message of the ad was essentially lost on me.

People discussed this premise back and forth; reportedly the purpose of the first ad was simply to set the stage of Bill and Jerry running into each other and hanging out. It started the narrative, if you will.

This seems very plausible when you watch the second ad, wherein Bill and Jerry stay over with a family in a somewhat stereotypical American suburb area. Much to my surprise (the first ad didn’t exactly raise my expectations) I actually quite liked the second ad. I thought it was funny, clever, and felt that it continued that narrative pretty well from the first ad.

Mostly though, it felt sincere and humble. I may need to repeat that for some of you so that you know I’m not kidding here: the latest Microsoft advertisement felt sincere and humble.

Fancy that.

The essence of the ad eventually dawned on me after I gave it some thought1 and realized that the take-away message of the ad was that Bill and Jerry had grown woefully out of touch with the average consumer and that “they” were now on a mission to get back in touch with people. It resonated with me. Not that I could tell you why, but it did.

That is, after I gave it all some thought.

The problem with that is that I was actively willing to spend time on figuring out what Microsoft was trying to say with the ad, something that not everyone is willing to do. And I don’t blame them one bit; after all, why should we be expected to dedicate time and energy to figure out what a company is trying to tell us in their advertisement? Isn’t the point of advertising that it tells you straight up what to think, so that you don’t have to anymore?

Without a doubt, part of Microsoft’s plan with these ads was to generate buzz and get people talking. I’m okay with that. I just wonder if that’s all they’re going for or if this new direction is truly something they’re hoping to achieve.

Put in different terms, I wonder if Microsoft is only putting in an effort to get back in touch with consumers via their ads, or if they’re truly and honestly planning to improve their products to make them more consumer-friendly. Without that second half of the story, these ads are nothing more than the proverbial lipstick on a pig. Consumers don’t win from that, and in the long run, neither will Microsoft.

Update: Simone Manganelli correctly points out that if Microsoft were truly dedicated to making their products more consumer-friendly, doing just that should have been the first step to take, with this Bill-and-Jerry marketing campaign running after the release of such improved products, not the other way around. This is an excellent point that I completely glossed over.

  1. This is where alarm bells should be ringing in your mind.

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