It seems that Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) new Gates/Seinfeld TV commercial is the ad that everyone loves to hate. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:
Now that you have (and if you’re not already navigating to your own blog to write yet another anti-Microsoft/anti-Seinfeld diatribe), we encourage you to sit back, take a breath, and consider the wisdom behind the spot.
That’s right – wisdom. What if Microsoft (and their ad firm, Crispin Porter + Bogusky) had come out with an edgy, trendy ad spinning Windows and Vista as hip lifestyle products? It would be a psychological non sequitur for consumers.
Does this ad make anyone believe that GM is making the cars of the future?
Or this one that Exxon Mobil is dedicated to healing the planet?
Microsoft is neither edgy nor trendy nor hip. It’s industrial and safe - no one ever got fired for buying Windows. And that’s been good enough for the company to dominate computing for decades. But Apple has made inroads with younger (and younger at heart) consumers and businesses by designing sleek, fun-to-use convergence products and simultaneously upping their systems’ industrial torque.
So what’s Microsoft’s retort? The Seinfeld spot is one part of it. With this ad, Microsoft is demonstrating just how smart it can be (Zune notwithstanding). Rather than try to out-image Apple, the company is looking to move the needle one tick. From unhip and industrial to unhip, industrial, and amusing. They’re embracing Microsoft’s geeky position of strength and taking a small step that could be the beginning of a major transformation – from workplace systems to objects of desire. After all, isn’t that what Apple’s been working on in reverse for the last 20 years?
And Microsoft has the resources to take its time and do it right. To grow perceptions of its value, rather than try and create new ones wholesale.
That’s the difference between branding and advertising. An organization can create the world’s most entertaining ad, but that organization just can’t be something it’s not, no matter how attractive its marketing is. Consumers won’t allow it – least of all in these cynical times. But if an organization can pinpoint that intersection between its own strengths and its customers’ desires, then it can develop a strategy for managing its own evolution. An ad won’t do that work for you. Jerry Seinfeld won’t do that work for you. But if you’re Microsoft in 2008, he just might help get you started.