15
Sep 09

Putting the soft in Microsoft

The marketing for Windows 7 began with a new commercial last week. I suspect this will be a frequently discussed topic around here, because it involves a favorite target (Microsoft), a favorite agency (Crispin) and a few thousand opinionated people (us). Initial take: I’m kinda stunned.

The new spot is cute — but it’s the hit-me-between-the-eyes, gag-me-with-a-spoon, give-us-your-money kind of cute.

I have to say, I’m a little surprised that Crispin would go this route, even though their Laptop Hunter commercials were an indication of trouble in paradise. It’s actually a missed opportunity: with early indications that Windows 7 will not be the kryptonite that Vista was, they have license to be creatively brave. But if there is a shred of bravery in this spot, it’s extremely well hidden. Rather than blaze a new trail, they’ve reached into a very thin bag of tricks to pull out Kylie, the too-cute star of a previous Vista commercial.

Reading off a list of positive product reviews is an easy way to go. It’s just not a terribly exciting one. Apple lapses into a quotes ad now and then, and it makes me shudder every time. I guess Microsoft/Crispin thought that using the kid (emphasis on use) would take the curse off. Unfortunately, it puts a whole new curse on. There’s a joke in creative departments everywhere to the effect that all will be well if you “just throw in a baby or a puppy.” It may work to some degree, but you will burn in creative hell for it.

If you’re going to play the cuteness card, you’d better do it artfully. Otherwise it’s just transparent, a calculation, a manipulation. This spot is born of the belief that being likable is as easy as showing likable things. It isn’t.

Should Windows 7 really be this cute? Should Microsoft actually deliver “more happy” as they promise/threaten? Should they just toss in the puppy next time? Call me cold and heartless, but I have a problem getting too cuddly with my operating system.

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  • Bigger problem: saw it on the air, saw the same kid, turned away thinking it was the old commercial.

    We couldn’t find a new cute kid?

  • Bob

    My jaw drops open at the lack of creativity and compelling messaging demonstrated by this ad. Did someone actually get paid for this or fired for it?

  • ken segall

    @Bob

    You raise a good point about the lack of compelling messaging. Technically, there is a valid message — that some pretty tough critics have been impressed by the product. But this is one of those instances where the creative trickery actually confuses the message.

  • Joe

    I’m sure there’s more to follow, but at a glance this sets the tone of 7 being a program/OS for kids.

  • Bryan

    A new low for
    Microsoft and Crispin.

    But then I’m not that crazy about the new Mac vs. PC commercials either. They’ve lost their magic. Or their original team.

  • Tony Gill

    Your articulate critique of this ad does it much more justice than it deserves — it made me want to puke.

  • ken segall

    @Tony

    Well put. I need to work on my manners. (Subjugating them, that is.)

    @Bryan

    I know what you mean. Personally, I get a little tired of the shtick, but I’m wondering if that’s because I’m in the biz and want Apple to keep pushing. Real people I meet out in the world can’t seem to get enough of Mac vs. PC. Certainly it’s become part of the culture, and that’s a rare thing for any campaign to accomplish.

  • hey ken, long time fan, first time caller…

    but seriously, isn’t this like the 6th foray into a ‘new direction’ from CPB? this year? at what point does it stop being about MS (or even start)?

    the message is so lost here, i’m not sure what i’m looking at or waiting for. very similar to the ‘Bill and Jerry go on walk-about’ … and the ‘i love cheese and i’m a PC’ schtick…

    at least the Mac v PC stuff has room to breath while delivering smart(er) points that people seem to get. hell, my sister even bought an iMac largely due to the simple points in those spots… just my opinion…

  • ken segall

    @marino

    Good to see you here! You’ve given me a big smile reminiscing about the Bill & Jerry campaign and then Microsoft’s own “I’m a PC” campaign. I wish I’d had a blog back then because it would have made for some great discussion. I was amazed that Microsoft/Crispin would respond to all the valid points Apple was bringing up with Mac vs. PC by basically saying “oh yeah, well an awful lot of people use PCs!” Not a lot of substance there. Of course, with Laptop Hunters they found their own version of substance: “oh yeah, well we’re cheaper!” Nary a mention of the computing experience, which just happens to be their product…

  • hey ken, i do think that CPB does what CPB does best, which is to bolster their own brand… have you noticed that when the PC hunters go anywhere to score their affordable laptops, it’s usually a BestBuy? that’s one of CPB’s other clients, i believe… smells like conflict of interest to me, but what do i know…

    the other really bothersome point about the whole bargain hunters campaign is that MS don’t make the product… they supply a key component. they’re the de facto OS on EVERY computer save for Apples and few hardcore UNIX systems…

    but as they say, you can lead a horse to water… MS has to understand something that Apple apparently got a long time ago: people want to feel good about what they buy, which includes the entire experience, which is why i don’t think MS brings it up… once you get the laptop home, the real experience begins and that hasn’t been much to write home about… that might change with 7, but given the past history, i’m not so sure…

    cheers, marino

  • Tony Gill

    As a non-partisan observer in the whole “Mac vs. PC” debate for more than 15 years, I feel that I have to post this link to a recent article that gives eloquent voice to the “Anti-Mac” sentiment:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/28/charlie-brooker-microsoft-mac-windows

    And for those that haven’t come across it yet, Umberto Eco’s seminal 1994 “Mac vs DOS” piece, in which he likens the two competing operating systems to different branches of Christianity:

    http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_mac_vs_pc.html

  • ken segall

    @tony

    Thanks for these links! I enjoyed thoroughly. Or, more accurately, I agonized thoroughly. Not being familiar with Brooker of The Guardian, I can’t quite tell just how tongue-in-cheek he is being. So, removing him from the picture for the moment, I do love the idea (in a tragic kind of way) that any human being can so clearly lay out the advantages of one system over the other, yet refusing to make his own life simpler — simply because he can’t bear the thought of associating with the smarmy crowd that evangelizes the better system. That’s the human spirit at its finest :) Personally, I stick to bikes because I hate the smug attitude of most car owners. I’ve had it with doctors too. The way they flaunt their superior educations is really annoying.

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