September 19th, 2008


So first Microsoft cans the Gates+Seinfeld ads, completely unable to let the idea start soaring. John Gruber argues that these ads were a very effective way of saying nothing, and that it continues a tradition of various spectacular ways of saying nothing, partner in a two-prong strategy with “insult your customers”. I’m not about to argue that I’m falling off my chair from the insight these recent ads brought me, but it was certainly a step in normalizing their attitude. They used to say nothing in a boring way, now they said nothing in a weird or quirky or entertaining way. I call this progress.

Right behind this news comes the new Windows vs Walls campaign. I haven’t seen the ad since it hasn’t aired yet, but the print or web “manifesto” is legible from Paul Thurrott’s aforelinked coverage. From the looks of it, this campaign is set to do two things: establish Windows as, uh, enabling communication between people, and establishing PCs as not as one-sided as in Apple’s ads.

There’s a huge problem with this: the “manifesto” half is still saying nothing, only now it’s pseudo-visionary, microwaved people_ready crud which happens to press more on how many people use Windows. A lot. We get it.

I can’t judge the “PC” half. I will say this, though: most of the Apple ads bring up either real problems that Vista users experience, or real improvements that Macs deliver. Microsoft doesn’t attempt well enough to fix those Vista problems (it’s still trying madly, despite occasional sane slips, to not acknowledge them, and to inflate Vista sales numbers by making a Vista license the SKU you have to get for an XP license many times), and they’re not pushing the things Windows can do that Macs can’t. Pointing and saying “he’s lying; just read this promotional copy and see for yourself” doesn’t seem like a good response.

More than anything, though, the new ad seems to have that terrific vibe of “computers — ain’t they quite the thing?”. I’m suspecting this would have worked much better one or two decades ago. We already know. No one’s going to forget their XP reinstallation because you say Windows is great and the hearts of its engineering team were pure. No one’s going to see Microsoft in a new light after considering that they know how people use these Internet tubes to talk to each other.

Update: I’ve now seen that “I’m a PC” spot. The thrust seems to be “not all PCs look like John Hodgman”. Oh really. Was this ever what this was about? Isn’t it telling that that’s all Microsoft can find to effectively refute? It’s as if adidas or Reebok put out an ad saying “Actually, don’t do it.”