There's little worse for a stand-up comedian than to tell a joke to silence.
This is something Microsoft has experienced in the last 24 hours.
Seemingly desperate to have a laugh or seven at the expense of Apple's sudden embrace of color and personalization, Redmond released a series of ads that looked like they had been written and made overnight. By a few corporate executives over a bottle of Maker's Mark.
As the hours went by and the incredulous whispers reached its ears, Microsoft's executives decided the ads were "off the mark." The ads were removed, wolf-whistles accompanying their departure.
It wasn't that the idea of mocking Apple was a bad one. It's that the execution was both cheap and unfunny.
If you create cheap, styleless ads, your brand comes off as cheap and styleless too.
Microsoft has wanted to ridicule Apple for some years. Sometimes, it's seemed reticent. At others, it's gone for it with a slightly crude abandon.
Its recent campaign mocking the iPad had some wit but didn't quite feel emotionally engaging.
It's at that level that Microsoft has lagged for many years.
Samsung and Google have proved that mocking Apple to great effect is possible. Samsung's recent rise in smartphones can surely be traced to its wildly entertaining and accurate pokes at Apple fanboys who line up at new product launches with a worshipful cluelessness.
Though knocking Apple isn't all that Samsung does, it's progressed the campaign to belittle Apple users as being somehow doddery and technologically backward.
Recently, Google has launched its Moto X with ads that don't mention the iPhone by name. However, the "slide to unlock" over comedian TJ Miller's jelly belly leave no doubt that Google wants you to feel that the iPhone is a lazy oaf in search of free pot.
More Technically Incorrect
Again, these ads are funny. They're executed with both confidence and style.
Such wit is generally harder for Microsoft to come by. There is, however, one other aspect that might be working against Redmond.
Some would say that it doesn't always have the competitive products to which people want to gravitate. It's harder to make jokes if people don't find that your products offer the promise of something better.
This is exacerbated by product launches that are less than positively impactful. The Gleeful dancing teens ad to launch Surface will surely be remembered as worse than your drunken uncle's one-man lambada at your sister's wedding.
There have been a couple of Windows Phone ads that have at least begun to laugh successfully at the Apple-Samsung monopoly on, well, fanboy-fighting.
At heart, though, Microsoft's reputation -- that its corporate marketing leans toward the corporate rather than the marketing -- seems to prevent it from creating ads that elicit winning smiles and retweets.
Perhaps it should stop trying to ridicule Apple for a while -- Apple-mocking is a crowed market -- and try to build a stronger emotional connection between consumers and its own brand.