I'm not at all sure that it is accurate to describe Microsoft's latest ad campaign, which recently kicked off with a television commercial starring both Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, as viral marketing. After all, viral campaigns don't start out with national TV spots featuring two of the world 's most famous individuals.Still though, I find it interesting that the campaign's first ad has received so much negative attention from blogs and the online media. First, here's the ad:
And second, here's the popular criticism: 1.) The ad isn't funny 2.) Jerry Seinfeld doesn't appeal to younger viewers and 3.) The ad doesn't really mention Microsoft or Vista. Here's how InformationWeek's Paul McDougall sums it up:
The ad shows Seinfeld helping Microsoft chairman Bill Gates buy shoes at a discount store. Gates opts for a pair called The Conquistador. "They run very tight," Seinfeld warns. It does not get any funnier than that.
But it's a remarkable, 90-second second encapsulation of why Microsoft is going to have a tough time thriving in the Web 2.0 world, where consumers--not agencies and marketers--decide what's in.
For starters, what does the decision to use a 54-year-old, white, multimillionaire comedian, whose show went off the air ten years ago, as the centerpiece of a campaign that's supposed to give Windows a hip new image and help Microsoft reconnect with younger buyers, tell us about the company?
Mostly that it's dominated by middle aged white guys who made their own millions more than a decade ago and who are woefully out of touch with America's changing demographics and any generation that doesn't go by the initials BB.
These guys probably still think the Fonz is cool.
The extent of online criticism is reminiscent of the online backlash that's usually reserved for ill-conceived and/or misleading viral campaigns. And, after drawing that comparison, I find myself in a state of confusion. What's so bad about this commercial?
It's not Seinfeld's finest work, but I chuckled a few times. Isn't that really all you can ask for from a TV commercial? Considering some of the other stuff that invades my living room during commercial breaks, I'd say Microsoft did an OK job.
And I don't necessarily think Seinfeld is that misguided of a choice. It's not like they pulled Gallagher out of 1985. Seinfeld and his television show reached across many generations, including a group that is now entering its mid-20s (I should know).
What's really at play here is something that insurance companies -- especially those looking to launch marketing campaigns -- might what to keep in mind. And that is that the online community does not judge marketing campaigns and other corporate efforts on a stand-alone basis. I suspect that bloggers and other online pundits aren't necessarily reacting negatively to the Seinfeld ad simply because they dislike it from a content perspective, but because they have a negative opinion of Vista.
For example, not too long ago, Microsoft made the cool choice when it partnered with comedian and part-time Daily Show contributor Demetri Martin for an ambitious marketing campaign. In many ways, it was everything that the Seinfeld campaign is not -- it was younger-skewing, made heavy-use of the web, and funnier (I think, anyway). To date though, the campaign with Martin hasn't taken off.
The lesson here for insurers is that, on the Web especially, a company's reputation (in the case Microsoft, we're talking about Vista; for an insurer, we're talking about customer experience) precedes itself. If prevailing wisdom, accurate or not, suggests that your product or service is less-than-stellar, any attempt to connect with consumers in a less-than-conventional way is likely to be viewed through a harsh lens. (I doubt GEICO's caveman spots, for instance, would seem as funny if everyone was under the impression that the carrier's web site crashed during the quoting process.)
I have never used Vista. So I can't speak with any authority on its strengths or weaknesses. Still, I do know that a series of negative Vista reviews and reports has given the OS a bad rep that has permeated popular opinion. If recent reports are any indication though, Microsoft has taken strides to improve Vista's performance and fight the stigma currently attached to it. If those efforts are successful, perhaps Microsoft's subsequent Seinfeld spots will be better received.