Microsoft explains Seinfeld-Windows TV ad: just a 'teaser'

It's the first step in Microsoft's campaign 'to reconnect with consumers'

The much-hyped Windows commercial starring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates that aired on U.S. television Thursday night left many viewers scratching their heads. That was intentional, said Microsoft Corp. today.

The ad was a "teaser" to a much longer campaign, said Brad Brooks, corporate vice president for Windows consumer product marketing at Microsoft, in a video interview posted on Microsoft's site.

Microsoft wants to "engage customers in a conversation and dialogue in a humorous and intriguing way," said Brooks, who took over marketing for Windows and Vista in February after a major reorganization.

"We want to re-engage consumers emotionally around the brand, Windows," continued Brooks, "and actually create that emotional connection again -- a connection we've had, and that we want to have again."

Prior to the commercial's airing last night, advertising experts had cast doubt on Microsoft's choice of Seinfeld, suggesting that the 54-year-old comedian's brand of observational humor had become dated and wasn't hip enough to win back Mac defectors, especially youthful ones.

The commercial showed Seinfeld encountering Gates in a discount shoe store at a mall, chatting him up about nonsensical topics such as whether the Microsoft founder wears clothes in the shower, and then asking Gates if Microsoft could make "something that makes our computers moist and chewy like cake so we can just eat them while we're working." Gates wiggles his rear end to answer in the affirmative.

The predictably negative immediate reaction by tech bloggers seemed to reaffirm that criticism. But ad experts were also not much more enthused.

Barbara Lippert, a critic for AdWeek magazine, called the ad "beyond bizarre."

"While Gates deserves extra platinum Big Top Points for being able to make fun of himself (and his reputation for being cheap) ... the spot shoots itself in Bill's size 10 Conquistadors several times."

Gates' wiggling his butt to answer Seinfeld's question was a motion that Lippert would "rather not see ... that gesture puts a whole new spin on 'multitasking.'"

"If Crispin Porter + Bogusky [Microsoft's advertising agency] and Microsoft were going for the oddly creepy or the offputtingly nonsensical, then they've succeeded brilliantly," wrote Steve Hall, publisher of

But some commentators at Computerworld found the ad surprisingly funny.

"This commercial was funny and interesting," wrote "HFC" in a post titled "It's about image not a product." "It wasn't directly trying to get you to buy something, it was letting everyone know the company isn't the uptight (yet amusing) business guy that Apple wants us all to believe."

Others said that considering the pre-airing hype, as well as the reflexive cynicism that accompanies almost anything Microsoft does, the ad succeeded as well as could be expected.

"It was a very odd commercial, but it has the effect that people are talking about it now ... so didn't they get their money's worth?" wrote "Amanda."

Microsoft released a statement today admitting that "some may wonder what Jerry Seinfeld helping Bill Gates pick out a new pair of shoes has to do with software. The answer, in the classic Seinfeld sense of the word, is nothing. Nevertheless, the spot is the first and most visible sign of an ambitious effort by Microsoft's Windows business to reconnect with consumers around the globe."

"The new campaign will highlight how Windows has become an indispensable part of the lives of a billion people around the globe -- not only on PCs but also now online and via mobile devices," continued the statement.

To make that concrete, Microsoft is working with Circuit City and Best Buy to roll out "Windows-branded sales environments and store-within-a-store concepts" to compete with Apple Inc.'s highly successful stores. The software maker also said it is collaborating with PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sony and Lenovo, to improve users' PC experience in some important areas, such as "speeding up start-up and shutdown time and sleep and resume speeds."

Hall conceded that it's too early to judge the overall campaign.

"Did anyone actually think the Perdue Chicken commercials were any good when they first came out way back when?" he wrote. "You never really know for sure what's going to work and what isn't. The Gates/Seinfeld pairing could be Microsoft's version of Apple's Mac and PC guys."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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