Would you buy a phone if it were endorsed by Barack Obama? Lady Gaga? Ben Affleck?
How about Steve Ballmer?
I’m still having nightmares over this one. If you’d asked me weeks ago to guess who might be the “celebrity” voice in a Windows Phone ad, I can guarantee I’d never have guessed Ballmer.
That’s because there are blatantly obvious reasons not to go that route. Though I know people who have personal experience with Ballmer and swear that he’s a brilliant man, his public persona is what it is. And it isn’t all that appealing.
Putting a CEO out there like this isn’t something that’s done lightly. It normally involves a spirited debate between client and agency.
How likable is the guy? How believable is he? Will viewers identify with him? Will they even like him?
Even when you get past those issues, there remain the production details. You need a great script. You need to figure out how much of the CEO you actually want to see or hear.
In this case, the responsible parties obviously decided that they’d go for Ballmer’s personality, but downplay his physical being. At least some degree of sanity prevailed.
But the fact is, simply by sticking your CEO in a commercial, you’re communicating things you may not want to communicate. Many take it to mean “situation critical.”
Interestingly, there is a parallel in the Steve Jobs world from the days of NeXT. Following the NeXT Computer’s mixed reception, Steve was introducing the smaller and more affordable NeXTstation. This was a super-critical moment. NeXT desperately needed a hit to remain viable. So the agency proposed to use every available weapon — including Steve Jobs. We put him on the cover of the launch brochure.
Steve was hesitant. He thought it might make NeXT look desperate, though he ultimately went along with it.
(Update: Steve also declined to use his own voice track for the “Think different” launch commercial — even though we had recorded him and tried to convince him to use that version. He did not want to be a distraction from the message of the ad.)
I’m sure they had similar discussions regarding the use of Ballmer. But there is a bit of a difference between the public perceptions of Steve Jobs back then and Steve Ballmer today.
The most convincing argument in favor of Ballmer is the PC marketshare. 90% of the world uses Windows computers, and obviously PC people would be a juicy target for selling a Windows phone.
Unfortunately, this is the triumph of logic over creativity. No amount of logic can turn Ballmer into a TV personality. I also seriously wonder what percentage of PC users have any love for Ballmer, since Microsoft has fallen so far behind in phones and tablets on his watch.
To the many who feel that Ballmer has dragged the company down, this spot ends up saying “Hey look, I finally got one right.”
There are only two things for a viewer to appreciate in this spot. One is the interface-formerly-known-as-Metro. That’s all we see throughout the entire ad. The other is the glimpse inside Steve Ballmer’s world — demonstrating that he’s just a regular guy getting advice from friends and family, including Bill Gates.
If the tiled interface is enough to drive your phone decision, then this is enough of a commercial.
If you’re one of those who has trouble stomaching Ballmer, you’ll be wincing as you try to absorb what Windows Phone is bringing to the party.
I had absolutely no memory that Ballmer had appeared in a Microsoft commercial once before, way back in the days of Windows 1.0. In the following spot, Ballmer plays the exaggerated role of late-night pitchman. Unfortunately, that isn’t all that far off from the real Ballmer…