8.222008

seinfeld isn’t going to rescue vista

According to the Wall Street Journal, Jerry Seinfeld has signed on as pitchman for Microsoft’s VistaThe $10MM deal is reportedly part of a $300MM campaign from Microsoft to counteract the damage to Microsoft’s image resulting from Apple’s “Mac vs. PC” ads that trash Vista.

The news has set the blogosphere ablaze with criticism.  Gawker.com says “using Seinfeld humor in ads was already considered tired three years ago.”  BusinessWeek’s David Kiley questions the logic of the move, pointing out that in his sitcom Seinfeld always had a Mac on his desk.

Timing is the issue for Bob Williams, CEO of Burns Entertainment and Sports Marketing, the company behind such great brand/celebrity match ups as Jenny Craig & Kirstie Alley and Hanes & Michael Jordan.  He remarks, “Having Jerry Seinfeld promote Vista now is a curious move.  If industry reports are correct and Windows 7 is going to be out early next year, why spend $10MM to promote Vista now?”

The deal doesn’t make sense from a brand perspective either.  I won’t debate whether or not Seinfeld can make Microsoft Vista seem cool — that isn’t their problem.  Microsoft isn’t cool and that’s OK.  What people need to know is that Vista works.  A Google search on the phrase “Vista sucks” delivered 230,000 results — the videos and blog posts make it clear that people want to use Vista, but they’re encountering serious and numerous problems doing so.

So Microsoft first needs to fix the product — then it should commission a campaign to convince people that it has.  Regardless of star power, even the most creative advertising is going to ring hollow if the product doesn’t live up to its promise.

But even assuming Microsoft does indeed clean up Vista, I’m not sure Seinfeld is the right association for the brand.  After all, he played a skeptical, glass-is-half-empty kvetcher for 9 years — not quite the type of positive image equity Microsoft needs to derive from a spokesperson.  Perhaps the only way to properly use Seinfeld in ads would be for him to issue challenges to Microsoft to prove that Vista works — and for Vista to step up to the plate and prove its worthiness of his esteem (a la, is Vista “Seinfeld-worthy?”)

From what is being said about the ads, however, it seems they intend to stress how Vista “breaks down barriers that prevent people and ideas from connecting.”  So I guess we’ll just have to add this campaign to the long list of efforts by companies that create a huge gap between what their brand says and what it really does.

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  • http://www.portigal.com Steve Portigal

    Jeez, make us read 3/4 way thru your piece before you thrown in your own Seinfeld joke? :) :)

    I was thinking when I read this about how square Seinfeld has become, even as he hasn’t really changed his image that much. Think about how edgy Larry David is (and the brand associated with him would be Prius, I guess). Remember Jerry’s last ad campaign for American Express (I think) where he hung out with Superman. Two of our father’s brands. Vista is actually a step forward for the guy.

    But we must pity the poor marketing people at Microsoft handed a lame-duck product they have to somehow pitch. At least they can have some fun while doing it, since it can’t possibly make any difference…

  • Tim

    An interesting perspective. Microsoft’s biggest problem isn’t Vista’s reliability from what I can tell (been using it for several months now). The biggest problem is THEY LET THEIR COMPETITOR DEFINE THEM. Look, with something like 180 million copies sold, you are going to have a lot – yes – even 230,000 google hits – that say it sucks. Apple’s OS-X has sold maybe a few million copies – and most of those to Apple’s fan club, so you won’t get many complainers despite many well documented flaws with Apple hardware (Macs and i-phone) and the latest OS (Leopard).

    Anyway, back to the point – Apple did a stellar, albeit somewhat dishonest, job of defining Vista. Microsoft’s biggest problem is that they waited too long to answer back and now they are playing catch up. It will take a Herculean effort to overcome the negative perception. I’m not sure Jerry Seinfeld is the right guy to do it. But, we’ll know more as the campaign progresses. It sounds like it is a much more broad-based effort than ads though, with Microsoft also (at least) executing in-market activities at retail stores to put MS “geniuses” on the floor, much as Apple does in their stores.

    $300 million is a lot of money and you can bet some of it will have an effect. Windows 7 is not likely going to launch next year (as some have reported). So MS needs Vista to succeed and needs to rebuild the company’s tattered reputation.

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