Why the Seinfeld Microsoft ads aren't funny
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.