I've been a pretty big fan of Microsoft's Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld ads. No, it's not because I'm such a Seinfeld fanboy (I am though) or that I enjoy watching Bill Gates perform the robot on cue.
Instead, I look at the Seinfeld ads as a way for Microsoft to turn the company's poor public image into a positive image that will help it finally fix its Vista PR woes.
But after buckling under the pressure of "what is this about?" articles, Microsoft has shelved the Seinfeld ads (they may or may not come back) and has instead started attacking Apple by explaining exactly what a PC is. (Editor's note: Microsoft says the move away from the Seinfeld ads was always planned.)
What a bad move.
I don't blame Microsoft for trying to battle Apple ads and I even commend it for doing just that. But now is not the right time to do it: Microsoft didn't improve its image yet. And if it hasn't been able to do that, how can it possibly expect to compete with the single company in this industry that has the best image of all?
It's PR suicide.
Any marketer worth his or her paycheck will tell you that marketing a product is effective only if the company's image is in good standing. In other words, if Enron ever came back and started pimping its offerings with Jerry Seinfeld, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra singing "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," it wouldn't help at all.
Microsoft obviously realized that or it wouldn't have tried to use Jerry Seinfeld to its advantage. After all, for what other reason would you hire him? To put him in front of a computer?
Regardless of whether Microsoft wants to admit it or not, the company is perceived to be an "evil empire" that bullies other companies and lines its own pockets without helping anyone out. That may not be true, but when it comes to a company's image, the truth isn't always necessary.
And that's why the Seinfeld ads were so important. No, they didn't need to talk about Windows or Vista or even Microsoft, for that matter. What they needed to do was portray Bill Gates as a likable guy and use Seinfeld to do it. And most importantly, the ads needed to show that Microsoft wasn't as bad as everyone thinks.
But before it achieved that goal, Microsoft shelved Seinfeld and started attacking Apple. Am I the only person who realizes this is the dumbest thing for Microsoft to do right now?
If your company is still suffering from public perception problems, people don't like your hallmark product, and you're trying desperately to turn that tide, why in the world would you want to compete with Apple in winning the public's affection?
Apple? Are you kidding me? Sure, I can see beating up on Linux and maybe even attacking Google. But Apple? No way.
Apple hasn't just become a household name, it has become the most favored brand in the business. Its ads poking fun at Microsoft are blockbuster hits and adeptly illustrate the company's "cool" factor. Apple's ads ooze elegance and value, intelligence, and cunning. And all the while, Apple reaps the benefits of being the most beloved company in the space.
Doesn't Microsoft know that people genuflect at altars erected for Steve Jobs? Doesn't Microsoft know that the power of Apple ads is rooted in its ability to capitalize on Microsoft's PR problems?
And it's for that reason that targeting Apple's "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" campaign is one of the worst ideas Microsoft has had yet. It can't immediately attack the single company that can beat it every time in the public perception debate. If Apple, a company that's well-liked and held in high-regard says Microsoft isn't any good, and Microsoft, a company that's held in low-regard tries to say the exact opposite in its ads, which company do you think most consumers will believe?
That's what I thought.
Microsoft pushed Seinfeld away too soon. It should have spent more time improving its image before it took on Apple. But now that it hasn't, it better back off the fight for now, try to improve its image, and take the fight to Apple when the public will listen.
If it doesn't, this $300 million campaign will be nothing more than a waste of money.