Dec 14

Apple holiday ad 2014: two ways to see it

Another year, another Apple holiday commercial. So, what do we think?

Nosing around the internet (and pestering friends and associates), my non-scientific small-sample analysis of The Song yields these results:

• Most people like it.
• Some people love it.
• Some people think it goes over the top into Hallmark territory.

And then the dose of reality — even among the people who like this ad the most, quite a few qualify their answer by saying “but it’s not as good as last year’s spot.”


Well, the truth is, when its ads are critiqued, Apple has it rougher than other companies. It is not only graded vs. its competitors — it’s graded vs. its own past. That’s what you get when your advertising is as legendary as your products.

And so, if we are to review this ad, it’s only fitting that we review it two different ways. Continue reading →

Oct 14

When in doubt, change the name

Way back in August, a story surfaced about a possible name change looming for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

It’s been echoing in my head (a lot of room in here), because changing a product name isn’t something that happens very often.

Now that Internet Explorer has reached Version 11, it’s an interesting time to ask for a restart.

There are normally two reasons why a company would want to change an existing product name.

Sometimes, they simply have no choice. Circumstances demand it. In other situations, the name change might be a bit more “recreational.” That is, it’s not mandatory, but the marketing guys believe the new name will make it an easier sell.

Before we pass judgment on poor Internet Explorer, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look a few classic name changes. Continue reading →

Mar 14

Microsoft vs. Apple: the strategy gap

Microsoft’s newly minted Chief Strategy Officer, Mark Penn

Most people judge ads by what they see. Good ad, bad ad, end of story.

Of course, it’s a little deeper than that.

As is often pointed out around these parts, there’s a little thing called “strategy” — which is hashed out before creative teams start creating.

Historically, Apple has been very smart about strategy, while Microsoft has been very … shall we say … un-smart.

Now that Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella has appointed Mark Penn to the position of Chief Strategy Officer, it’s a whole new ballgame, right?

Not so fast.

From what we know of Mark Penn, the gap between the quality of strategy at Apple and Microsoft isn’t about to shrink.

For starters, Penn has actually been Microsoft’s Executive VP, Advertising and Strategy, since mid-2012. He’s the architect of the company’s tasteless, cutesy and much-maligned “Don’t Get Scroogled” campaign. Continue reading →

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. Continue reading →

Feb 13

Microsoft’s uncool quest for cool

In the technology biz, “cool” is a very good thing to be. Ask Apple. Its past revolutions were fueled by the ever-present aura of cool.

But where exactly does cool come from? One thing is for certain: it doesn’t come from standing on a mountaintop and screaming “we’re cool!”

This is apparently one marketing lesson Microsoft has never learned. Because just a few days ago, it stood on a mountaintop (The Grammys broadcast) and screamed its coolness with the above Surface Pro commercial.

Let’s start with the obvious: it isn’t cool. If I had to categorize it, I’d say this spot falls somewhere between “retro” and “embarrassing.” Continue reading →

Dec 12

Microsoft goes for the gimmick

Back in the days of NeXT, Steve Jobs taught me a lesson in technology advertising. As you might expect, it wasn’t very complicated. It went like this:

“Be important.”

At that point in time, Steve had a particular need for importance. Sales of the NeXT Computer weren’t exactly on fire. The company was struggling to survive.

Steve wanted the world to believe that NeXT was a relevant force with a message that deserved notice. He had no interest in an ad that was cute or inconsequential. He wouldn’t pin his hopes on a marketing gimmick.

I can’t help but think of Steve’s direction when I see Microsoft’s advertising for its Surface tablet.

“Important” it is not. Continue reading →

Nov 12

Winning their hearts with Steve Ballmer

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? Continue reading →

Jun 12

The joy of demo crashes

In a world where competition is often seen as combat, there’s nothing more delightful than watching the other guy squirm.

This video is a good example. Microsoft Windows president Steve Sinofsky’s mid-demo crash of the Surface tablet during the “big unveil” last week now has garnered 3 million views in a week. That’s over three times as many hits as the presentation itself — and over twice as many as Steve Jobs’ iPad 2 presentation has accumulated in over a year.

Good moments just don’t attract a crowd like good moments gone bad. But then Sinofsky added to the allure with his own little bit of performance art. Note how he does a little bunny-hop to the back of the stage to pick up a backup unit — almost as if no one would notice. Continue reading →

Jun 12

Microsoft delivers its opening argument for Surface

In the last 15 years, I don’t think I’ve ever given Microsoft more than 10 consecutive minutes of my life. Which is sad, because long ago I was actually a fan.

But yesterday, curious about the Surface tablet, I sat myself down and watched the entire video of Monday’s Surface unveiling in Hollywood. I found it fascinating on many levels.

First, I have to say that I was drawn to the video because two of the Surface’s features seemed very cool — the 16:9 format screen and keyboard built into the cover.

So, despite my mostly negative views of Microsoft, I started the video being somewhat impressed. Continue reading →

Aug 11

Microsoft’s “PCs for Dummies” campaign

Oh, you devilish marketers at Microsoft. I see the game you play.

You zig when other companies zag. They try to win by making customers feel smarter — but you’re going to win by treating them like idiots. Clever!

Back in May, I put up an article poking fun at what was then the newest Microsoft ad. It featured a rather dim customer whose home is turned into a PC store, exposing her to today’s amazing choices in PCs. Her big discovery: “So there’s no more tower? Wow!”

It was such a shallow spot, I never really imagined it would blossom into a whole campaign. But since then, a number of these things have popped up, each featuring someone you’d never want to be, learning something you don’t need to learn: new PCs are better than old ones.

I’m stirred to action only because this new one seems to be getting a lot of air play of late.

In this ad, we meet Cheryl, apparently the victim of a break-in. A gang has built a PC store in her home without her permission. (Unlike the original  spot, there’s no spouse in on the surprise here — it’s just a home invasion.) Cheryl too is a bit on the dim side: “Where’s the tower for this?” she asks. Heh heh. That one never gets old.

Where I come from, agency people get into fights about these things. Some believe it’s important to do a smart ad vs. one that appeals to the lowest common denominator. They believe in building brands vs. going after the low-hanging fruit.

Unfortunately, when you aim for fruit that’s hanging this low, you look pretty silly to customers who are a heck of a lot smarter. Which is probably 98% of them.

To see more people you can’t relate to, view more ads in this campaign here and here.