Remember those weird Microsoft ads with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates? Well, they were weird on purpose

Wed, Mar 31, 2010


Back in September of 2008, Microsoft tried to hip up its image and combat Apple’s incessant PC bashing with a series of what were supposed to be comical ads featuring Jerry Seinfeld and former CEO Bill Gates. The ads were quirky but were also confusing, and ultimately failed to impress, prompting Microsoft to quickly axe the ad campaign just a few weeks in.

At the time, Microsoft representatives said that the ad campaign was never planned with a long shelf life in mind, never mind the fact that they paid Seinfeld $10 million to appear in just 3 commercials. Following Microsoft’s ill-fated attempt to use Seinfeld’s popularity as a means to promote Windows Vista, they decided to take on Apple’s “Get a Mac” commercials head on with their own line of “I’m a PC” commercials.

Now, one a half years later, Microsoft’s chief marketing strategist David Webster reiterates in an interview with Techflash that Microsoft made those Seinfeld/Gates ads confusing on purpose as a means to get more eyeballs onto Microsoft, thereby setting the stage for when Microsoft’s true ad campaign would eventually hit the airwaves.

“We figured that that sort of obscure nature of the communications would make people lean in a little more closely to see what we were going to next,” Webster said, “Which in our case ended up being the “I’m a PC” work. And that part certainly worked, in the sense that everybody leaned in, and they paid a lot more attention to our subsequent work than I think they might have had we just started with it.”

Fair enough, and as the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad press.

Webster continues:

But by the same token, we got into this really weird dynamic where people thought that because we only ran three ads and it was criticized in the blogosphere that we had somehow pulled it as a result, despite the fact that we had actually architected it that way, and that created its own obvious weird news-cycle spin. But truthfully, it got a lot of views. Amongst regular people who weren’t professionally critiquing us, they were regarded as just being funny, non-sequitur kinds of ads, and we moved into the subsequent column.

I actually thought the ads were amusing, though not terribly effective at relaying the Microsoft brand. And to Webster’s credit, the lukewarm reception that greeted Microsoft’s Seinfeld/Gates ads actually did create an environment where people were saying, “Okay, let’s see what kinda nonsense Microsoft is going to come up with next.” The ole’ bait and switch.

And for old time’s sake:

This one is called “New Family” is actually pretty funny.


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