May 13

Microsoft & Nokia groom their comedy act

Let’s give credit where credit is due. An ad associated with Microsoft is making people laugh.

Not that this hasn’t happened before. The difference is, this time viewers are laughing with Microsoft — not at it.

It’s remarkable, because for many years Microsoft has been the older guy at the party trying to prove he’s cool or funny. Mostly, it’s turned out awkward (the Gates/Seinfeld buddy series), lame (“I’m a PC”) and/or befuddling (Surface dancing ads).

Given this track record, I’m assuming that the creative spark in this ad originated with Nokia. (Although Nokia hasn’t exactly behaved like a creative powerhouse in the past either.) But the branding here is heavily Microsoft, which has obviously opened its wallet to put the concept of “Windows Phone” front and center.

In this commercial, Microsoft and Nokia do to iPhone and Android what Samsung has so successfully done to Apple. It seizes the moment and makes its competitors look silly. And it does so by taking the silliness to an extreme.

It ridicules the features that have been touted by the smartphone leaders, from Siri to the idea of “bumping” phones to share photos.

A few cheesy gimmicks aside, the production quality is good. I can only imagine how much fun it was to be on the creative team for this one.

The big question is: will this ad have any effect in Microsoft’s quest to carve out a place for the Windows Phone platform?

Well, let’s start with the good news. People will watch it. It is legitimately funny. Who knows what kind of budget is being put behind it, but as Samsung has demonstrated — humor can be a deadly weapon when generously financed.

However, one can’t help feeling that Microsoft and Nokia went with this strategy for one simple reason: it’s one of only strategies left to them. This is what happens when your product comes along several years after the leaders have already divvied up the pie.

In effect, this ad screams “Hey! Over here! We’ve got a phone too!” There’s precious little here to suggest why Lumia might be a better choice than the phones we know so much about. This phone simply wants to be noticed.

But never dismiss the power of creativity. An ad doesn’t have to be deep to be effective.

This particular ad will be watched, and it will be watched repeatedly — because it’s loaded with new details to enjoy with each viewing. It’s entertainment with a message: there’s a new phone in town.

I wouldn’t count on a stampede of Lumia customers rushing into the phone store as a result. But there are a lot of people smiling. And when you’re trying to get noticed, that’s a good start.

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  • Jurassic

    In the commercial, there’s a reason why the people are not fighting over the Nokia phone… no one has it. ;-)

    Microsoft/Nokia is making the same advertising blunder as Samsung. By comparing your product to a competitor’s product you accomplish two negative effects: 1) You provide free advertising for your competitor’s product (showing or talking about a competitor’s product, even if it is negative, misdirects the viewers’ attention to that product), and 2) by comparing your product to a competitor’s product you immediately place your product as a runner-up (why even mention a competitor’s product if you have the better product?).

    Over all, this type of advertising points to the originator’s insecurities about their own product. It also wastes valuable time that could be used promoting the benefits of your own product. Look at how much time in the commercial was used showing the iPhone and Galaxy phones, before just using the last few seconds to show the Nokia phone.

    “An ad associated with Microsoft is making people laugh.” Yes, but they may be laughing at Microsoft/Nokia, not with them.

  • Frank Berzau

    I was wondering what the message was. To illustrate how iPhone vs Samsung fans fight passionately for their loved handsets – and no one even cares to notice the two Lumia folks? And I still know nothing about the Lumia, they were just highlighting competitors’ features. Grand fail, imho.

  • ksegall

    Not sure if I agree.

    Rarely does an advertiser mention the competition when they are the leader. That simply acknowledges the other guys and gives them a boost. But when you’re the underdog, you are not so restricted. Samsung gained notoriety when they started poking fun at Apple — when Apple was considered the 800-pound gorilla and the Galaxy phone was in serious need of attention. Note that in Samsung’s latest commercials, they stopped making fun of Apple and focused more on features.

    Apple itself used this tack in the famously successful “Mac vs. PC” campaign. In desktop computers, Apple owned only a fraction of the market at the time, and they attacked Windows by name. I doubt that we’d ever see Apple attack other phones as long as it is perceived as a leader in the category.

    So I think it’s a legitimate path for Nokia/Microsoft to take, as they currently have but an infinitessimal market share compared to iOS and Android. However, it remains to be seen how successful they will be with this. Depends on what the following ads are like, and how much cash they put behind them.

  • ksegall

    Trust me, I don’t want to be in the position of defending Lumia. But when you’re marketing at the national level, you have to put yourself in the mind of the masses.

    Most people have only limited knowledge of the category. Commercials are an unwanted intrusion and oftentimes ignored. So when a spot comes on that makes you watch, that’s a good thing.

    Viewers don’t analyze as deeply as we do. This spot may not tout Lumia’s features, but it does a good job of diminishing the other guys’ features.

    Personally, I’ve never seen value in the “bumping phones” thing. So the two scenes where the phone-bumpers look so silly at least made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

  • chris

    The most powerful part of this spot (which I don’t find funny at all, sorry), is the very end. When we see that the Lumia was named Smartphone of the Year. It’s ok to be the underdog, but if you want to become the favorite you better have something to say. Like “we try harder.”

  • Hugo

    Unrelated to this ad, have you seen the new iPhone 5 ad? What do you think of it? Would love to hear your thoughts.

  • I think it’s worth noting that, just like in Samsung’s ads, Android is never mentioned by name.

  • ksegall

    I like it a lot. Will post an article about it tomorrow…

  • Done

    I’d rather fight than switch. I think this was done once before.

  • Done

    Or should I say switch than fight?

  • Hmmmm. Samsung’s ad was funnier. In this ad I found myself trying to think about what features they were trying to ridicule, where as in the Samsung ad it was obvious. Like the fans queuing up for the latest and greatest when Android already had it and the old people wanting an iPhone because it was cool (which made it not cool). Samsung did manage to be funny and convey product benefits.

    This ad was just people fighting at a wedding with obvious wire harnesses to pull them backwards. I already knew Microsoft and Nokia had a phone. So since this ad has done nothing to say why I should switch, it’s accomplished nothing. And it isn’t funny enough that I’d want to share it (unlike the Samsung ad).

  • WNeder

    1. I agree that the ad gets attention. And that is hard to do in that category.

    2. I agree about the “phones bumping” thing–I’ve always thought it was a terrible hook. I’ve never had trouble sending out media taken on my phone, and most of the time, if I’m sending it I’m sending it to someone I’m not standing next to.

    I’ve also only seen the “bumping” shown as a feature, never as a benefit. And I’m not sure I get the benefit on my own.

    3. My only issue with this ad is that it taps into something where the goodwill is already running a little thin. There is already a segment of society–often service workers–who have the “best thing you’ve never heard of” and think everyone else is stupid. Hipsters. And most people who are alive within pop culture at all (as certainly their targeted customers are) have really had their fun meters peg with this idea over the last year or two.

    For this reason, I think this ad will run dry very quickly. In another time and place, maybe it would get more play. Hell, maybe it would have sparked some hipster flair if run in the early 2000’s. But in 2013 with their target market, it tries to leverage an already tired energy.

  • Fasolatido

    The problem I have with with most ads, even thought they are really good, funny and for a sec or 2 make me feel sympathetic towards the brand like this add does. Is these adds are dog and pony shows, magic tricks, smoke and mirrors. Lipstick on a pig if you will. I see through them.

    One could argue that most of the audience doesn’t see through the smoke and mirrors, and I agree that is true. Hell, my mom has gotten a S3 from my sister and although my mom dislikes it much, even more than her previous dumb phone, she is being told its the best therefore she will not utter a bad word about it. And I am being kindly threatened not to either – not kidding. Because you know like everyone else Samsung is the best game in town.

    And this is what sets Apple apart they are more ethical and have more style when comparing or setting them selves apart from others. They do not invoke these wars. Rather point out the obvious self evident truths and have a real great products to back them up.

    In the end care not for fake adds propping up something that does not have enough substance to keep up the portrayed image.
    I really do enjoy the creativity just have a look at this one:

    Smart idea, the goldfish.

    In the end most big companies underestimate their customers or simply do not respect them.

  • ksegall

    I hear ya. People like you and me tend to be critical and analyze, but that’s not necessarily true for the mass market of people out there who might soon buy a smartphone. For these people, an ad either stops them or it doesn’t. It either strikes a chord or it doesn’t. It either gets remembered or it doesn’t.

    That’s not to say that “successful” ads are always in the best of taste, or that they appeal to those with higher standards. But if you’re talking to the masses, trying to sell a new phone on a new platform, you probably can’t be as high and lofty as an Apple can be. You have to find a way to break through the clutter and get noticed.

    That’s all I’m saying about this ad. It’s getting noticed. Whether that’s enough to create a foothold for the Lumia remains to be seen.

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  • Manlobbi

    My I impression was that the ad was very negative, the negativity and aggression outweighing the attempt to be humorous, soft of the diametric opposite of a classic Cole ad. This leaves an awkward feeling towards whoever the vendor is – that isn’t even clear until the end with so much mention of Samsung and Apple (including logo on chest confirming how much people love Apple). When you process what it is all about just as it finishes I was just left thinking “these guys are really desperate”.

  • Lasyos

    As I agree with you on the catchiness of the spot, I also agree with some commentators that it lacks certain qualities especially noticeable on the second round of viewing.
    I agree that it is really gimmicky without a substance (which is a whole other topic about the products themselves rather than the marketing effort) and certainly not as funny as it should/could be because of a desperate need of being funny (a self harming act which could also be observed in latest seasons of “30 Rock” and “How I Met Your Mother”, once decent shows reduced to a faint echo of themselves).
    But I think the bigger problem is the lack of scope of the critical eye. As it was the case with the (dare I say, desperate) ads of Samsung (sadly continuing with new S4 ad) the ad’s poking fun in seperate islands of most obvious features and/or iconography of the competitors without stitching them to a bigger picture.
    For me the most important part of the “Mac vs. PC” series was it’s wholistic criticism in the mainstream computing mindset of 1980’s and 90’s (established by Microsoft) heralding a different, better (subjectively) and (for most) a new paradigm of computing to the masses. It was strong, fresh but also genuine without looking down on ordinary people. (This fine tuned tone I think was the reason that Microsoft’s retaliation campaign “I am a PC” didn’t resonate with the people). Just like the show “Shameless” which is an incredibly fresh, bold and also sincere criticism in the most important institutions, accomplishments and taboos of the modern western civilization is easily funnier than the tired format of sit-com.
    The sad part is I think Microsoft and the creative team had the germ of a bigger point both in the initial Windows Phone strategy and the latest ad. The app paradigm and the “there’s an app for that” line is one of the major parts of Apple’s rhetoric and also is not challenged -on the contrary- aped by Android.
    As Windows Phone was Microsoft’s gallant effort to introduce the smart phone which itself was not a distraction from life, a more substantial critic of the app paradigm could be the basis of Microsoft’s own “Mac vs. PC” campaign, as they grow their app catalog in the meantime =)
    The latest ad from Heineken, turning the critical eye not on the competitors talking points but the zeitgeist is equally sincere and funny as the best examples of the “Mac vs. PC” campaign. I will not be surprised if it turns out to be a series rather than a stand alone ad. http://youtu.be/0_70zTeNzWI

  • Frank Berzau

    You made me smile. True, my opinions are rarely mainstream. Well, I do agree that the ad gets attention. And I’ve watched this with some family members and friends. However, and I think this is notable, I’ve not seen anybody get excited about the Lumia. It was like ‘ha ha, that’s funny’, followed by – nothing. Just like watching any of the millions of prank videos on YouTube. I don’t think that getting attention is enough. I personally never consider a product that discredits a competitor in its marketing. But that’s me. For the mass, I still believe this ad will get Nokia nowhere. Oh, and since Apple’s Mac vs. PC ad campaign was mentioned… The difference I see is that Apple – in a funny way – pointed out advantages of its own platform over a major competitor. That I think is ok, although there is a fine line you walk. With this Lumia ad, it lacks even a single piece of what marketing was once invented for – educate consumers about your product/service. You do that in a funny way – fine. You don’t do it at all – I don’t care it’s funny or not. Best case it’ll entertain me for a few seconds, worst case, it makes me think the vendor is bunch of idiots with no moral and nothing they could positively advertise.

  • Hi Ken,

    Wonder what your thoughts are on the new Acer R7 commercial.
    Personally feel that it is a refreshing tech ‘commercial’ if only because the more and more common bashing isn’t a part of the story telling.

    Casting, sets, fluidity explaining the ways you can use the R7… All done in a way that makes me like Acer more than others.



  • ksegall

    Hmm. I haven’t seen an Acer R7 commercial, and I can’t seem to find it anywhere. Got a link?

  • ksegall

    Ah, that one. I saw this, but at 2:40 in length I didn’t think it was a commercial. Personally, I don’t like the ad stylistically. More important, I think it’s a terrible device — and it looks really silly when they try to make it look natural in certain scenes. Most ridiculous is that one scene on the park bench where the guy is trying to show that with a simple flip of a screen, the R7 becomes a notebook. It looks gargantuan in his lap — and even bigger when he gets up and walks away with it.

    That’s the problem with these “all-in-one” devices. They do it all, but they do it all with compromises. The beauty of a tablet, and the reason why tablets are selling by the tens of millions, is that they are so feather-light and ultra-portable.

    So I don’t love the commercial (and I’m being kind). And I can’t imagine this ever being more than a niche device.

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