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.