Microsoft’s New Brand Character is…a middle-aged white guy?

22 08 2008

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a $300 million dollar Windows advertising campaign intended to boost the brand perception of its beleaguered Vista operating system.  This is surely counterprogramming to Apple’s highly successful Mac vs. PC ads which feature John Hodgman as the frumpy, stuffy, middle-aged personification of PC (i.e. Microsoft and Windows).

Their new brand ambassador in this campaign?  Jerry Seinfeld.  For a cool $10 million.  The choice to employ a married, middle-aged comedian whose last great cultural impact occurred in the 90’s met with immediate skepticism.  But hold on here.  Apparently, Michel Gondry, the director that brought us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is directing the ad.  That’s certainly puts a twist on things IF Jerry Seinfeld is either a) not doing the same old shtick or b) Gondry comes up with a fun, inventive way to tweak Seinfeld’s persona.  That’s a big “if.”

Seinfeld’s delivery and character have been the same since he was doing stand-up in the 80’s.   Microsoft is taking a risk in associating their newest OS with a personality that has remained unchanged for 25 years. And it’s a huge risk since part of their image problem is that they are old, staid and broken.  Microsoft and Gondry do have a few good options for storylines, though:

  • turn our notions of “old” vs. “young” on its head
  • tweak our nostalgia for the 90’s in a way that still has us looking forward (the equivalent of a “were you better off last decade than this decade?”)
  • embrace the target market personified by Seinfeld and mock the young, upstart persona that Apple has embraced (and, therefore, painted themselves into a very specific corner)

If, instead, Microsoft is pinning their hopes on very expensive star power to obscure the ill will toward Vista, well…I guess I actually won’t be too surprised.  

Surprise us Gates/Gondry/Seinfeld.  For your own sakes.


What’s in a Name?

21 08 2008

Recently, I was helping a friend try to figure out a name for a mobile software start-up.  The field’s so crowded with ventures now that it’s not easy to pick a name that hasn’t already been taken.  And it’s even harder to avoid names that are too techy, too cutesy, too clunky or just too, well, plain.  The only thing we were certain of was not taking a regular word and starting it with the letter “i.”

After umpteen passes with random imagination we decided to take a different approach.  Rather than just brainstorm names, we would first identify the qualities we thought would constitute a good name so we had something against which to judge our ideas.  Here’s what we came up with:

FLEXIBLE –  A word with multiple meanings and interpretations.  Better yet – a word that can be used as a verb or a noun.  Not only does this open up more possibilities for your marketing communications, it gives your design team a lot more options.  At one point we had gone down the road of fly-fishing imagery (tangential, yes, but we still think it’s cool) and words like “fly,” “lure,” and “catch” all fit this bill.  

EVOCATIVE – You want a name that conjures up interesting imagery.  Imagery that will be powerful in telling your story and conveying your brand image.  Words attached to common metaphors (like “window,” “door,” “sky”) are also more apt to translate internationally.  But beware:  you also want to conjure up the right imagery.  One name that we came up with was quickly squashed by the graphic designer because the first thing it made her think of was the creature in Alien.  Not so friendly.   Google got this one right with the name of their new mobile platform, Android, even if it is a bit scary.  Flickr got it right too.  And Richard Branson really got it right with Virgin. 

WE LIKE TO SAY IT – Maybe it’s hard to quantify this, but we all know it when we hear it.  There are onomatopoeic words like “sizzle.” Words with hard sounds like “hatch” and “jot.”  And just plain goofy words that are fun to say like “Google,” “Zoho” and “Twitter.”

AVAILABLE DOMAIN & DEFENSIBLE – a minor detail (heh)

We never did come up with a name.  I think the lawyers are duking it out over a bunch of second string ideas.  Turned out the one we liked most were too polarizing.  But, we still think these are useful guidelines for those of you undertaking the Sisyphean task of naming your start-up.  Good luck.

Work Sermon

20 08 2008

It’s fitting that I stumbled across this on a Sunday morning. While researching viral marketing on Guy Kawasaki’s blog for a consulting project, I came across the mention of a sermon called “Jesus & Your Job.” (disclaimer:  I don’t subscribe to any particular religion so I am not pushing an agenda here)  Guy had given this video clip a ringing endorsement which is the entrepreneurial equivalent of Siskel AND Roeper giving it a thumbs up.  So, I checked it out. 

Lo and behold, I got a boost of inspiration and enthusiasm for my work that no amount of Peet’s could provide.  Whether you are comfy in your current job, changing jobs, jobless or just starting to build a client base, I recommend you check out this link:  Scroll down to March 4th, 2007 and click on the camera icon.  Best viewed on a Monday morning.  Nancy, I hope to thank you in person one day.

Revenge of the Nerds

20 08 2008

This guy inspires me.

Not just because  of his superhuman feats of strength, speed and endurance.  But because of his inner fortitude and resilience.  

While being interviewed with her son, his Mom told the story of how Michael was harassed and teased as a kid growing up in Baltimore.  He was awkward, his ears stuck out, he was skinny.  The kind of things that make a guy self-conscious.  And somehow, through it all, he used that bullying for fuel to excel rather than to shrink.  

After he became a sports celebrity in 2004, an old classmate approached him and introduced himself.  Michael apologized for not recognizing him.  After he left, his Mom asked why he didn’t remember the guy.  Michael’s response went something like this [I’m paraphrasing from memory here.]: “Oh, I remember him.  He was one of the guys who used to make fun of me.  I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of letting him know that I remembered who he was.”

Classic!  On the surface, “The Michael Phelps Story” seems to be a classic David vs. Goliath storyline showcasing his spirit, endurance and hard-earned accomplishments in the face of withering bullies.  Call it what you will, but I can’t help but think of “Revenge of the Nerds” when I hear that story and see those eight gold medals.