Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Why the Seinfeld Microsoft ads aren't funny

Bill Gates circa 1983When the big guys get it right, I have nothing to write about.

Good ideas, smart marketing, successful product launches — none of this is funny.

But when the big guys get it wrong, totally spectacularly wrong, it makes my little black heart go thump.

Microsoft has just launched a new ad campaign — a $300 million ad campaign to promote Windows, or something. I assume the ad is selling Windows, but I’m actually just guessing. This commercial is so bad, it ends up looking like a public service spot for leather shoes.

In the ad, Jerry spies Bill getting poor service at “Shoe Circus” and rides to the rescue. Bill gets some shoes and Jerry launches into a vague joke-like ramble that advocates wearing shoes in the shower.

“You’re dressed, and you’re clean!” Jerry says, with a stale whiff of self-parody. Feel free to pause for a moment and grab your sides. I’ll wait.

It’s one thing for an ad to fail, all right? Anybody can take a chance and get it wrong. What makes this failure so epic is that it takes no chances, plays it utterly safe and still manages to get it wrong.

Microsoft put a tremendous amount of effort and resources into an ad that doesn’t sell a product, doesn’t enhance the brand and doesn’t say anything meaningful about computers.

They used Bill Gates in a commercial that doesn’t say anything about Bill Gates and paid $10 million for a comedian that isn’t allowed to be funny.

Huffington Post threw up a You Tube of this ad when it first came out and the digerati fell all over themselves in their zeal to tear it apart. The buzz reached “feeding frenzy” status last week, as bloggers, sensing weakness, swarmed like hyenas over a wounded beast.

Seinfeld’s performance is so forced, he actually makes Bill Gates look warm and sympathetic by comparison. His delivery is so sad, so cornball, so dangerously close to self-parody, I don’t think Jerry wanted to do this. I think they drove a dump truck full of money up to his house and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

This ad is tragic because it presents exactly the opposite of what the company wants to portray. While Apple has successfully branded itself as a sleek, cutting-edge company, Microsoft has revealed itself to be stuck in the 90’s — almost like they’re proud to be stuck in the 90’s, saddled with old ideas and old technology — fronting with a comedian who hasn’t been funny since 1995.

The ads play on the idea that Bill and Jerry are so fantastic, so successful and so eternally above the concerns of normal people that putting them in “normal” situations is supposed to be funny.

The arrogance behind this strategy is staggering. Bill and Jerry are taking their fame for granted and trying to cash checks on it, ten years after it might have worked.

Everything about this is backwards. The ad campaign presents “normal” people as worshipful sycophants, coming to the great Bill and Jerry for advice, bugging their eyes out when they catch the megastars shopping for shoes and brushing their teeth.

They’re reversing the strategy that made Jack Benny so popular. Benny succeeded by making himself the butt of the jokes, inviting the audience to hate him and letting his co-stars shine.

Microsoft could have done this, brilliantly, by reversing the premise of the ads, intentionally presenting Bill and Jerry as over-the-top jerks, making fun of themselves to earn viewer sympathy.

Instead, they’ve done this. Bill and Jerry still come off as jerks, but without the wink that would make you feel good about it.

This is what happens when you let suits run around unsupervised. Every major company needs to keep a 20-something intern on staff who can exercise veto power over any idea that stinks of “old.”

Microsoft has cemented its reputation as a lame duck company and Seinfeld’s performance is so bad, it makes you wonder if he was ever funny in the first place.

Written by Michael B. Duff

September 18, 2008 at 17:29

Posted in Microsoft, TV

9 Responses

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  1. You pegged this one, Michael Duff! Nice work!


    September 18, 2008 at 19:01

  2. That’s a little harsh, don’t ya think? I thought it was funny; of course I’m probably biased because I think Jerry Seinfeld is always funny. I personally enjoyed seeing 2 of the world’s most successful men act kindof corny. To me it made them more human. It was just a commercial, you know.
    I also hope they iron out any problems with Windows Vista as a lot of people will be in a world of hurt if they don’t.

    B D Sikes

    September 19, 2008 at 00:58

  3. B.D.,

    I thought Bill did a great job. I wish they’d done more with him.

    Frankly, I think the ads would be better without Seinfeld.

    Bill in goofy situations could work.


    September 19, 2008 at 01:14

  4. yes it is definitely seinfeld and not gates that looks bad in these commercials. doesn’t help microsoft’s image any though.


    September 19, 2008 at 08:40

  5. If there’s no such thing as bad publicity these ads are doing a great job. I don’t own a TV and haven’t bothered to track them down on the Web, and I don’t care about the product. But I know all about it, and the ads, from the buzz about how bad they are.


    September 19, 2008 at 12:33

  6. Usually I think any publicity is good, but this is a notable exception.

    Everybody’s getting the message, but it’s the wrong message.

    A message that makes it less likely for people to buy products.

    I don’t see a lot of people going, “Wow, these are pointless, confusing ads. I think I’ll switch to Vista!”

    If this was a company no one had ever heard of, bad publicity might help get their name recognized, but all this can do is hurt.


    September 19, 2008 at 19:33

  7. Dear Michael,

    I’ve just read your article on the Gates-Seinfeld ad. I thought the ad was funny -even brilliant. So did my wife and three adult children.

    The point of the ad was a question: if Bill Gates is gone will Microsoft continue to dominate the computer world? The answer: Yes.

    Funny is in the eye of the beholder.

    Philip Wise

    September 26, 2008 at 08:25

  8. It was a nice looking shoe 😉


    September 26, 2008 at 12:22

  9. The ads were indeed pretty flat, but the irony for me is that during the run of the “Seinfeld” TV series, various models of Macs were always in view on Jerry’s desk in his apartment.


    September 30, 2008 at 15:43

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