As a communications major and a former journalist and advertising guy, I know I can be a total pain to watch television with. I’ve seen behind the curtain and know how things are put together, the discussions that go on in the planning stage, and how sloppiness, lack of ideas and sometimes just plain laziness can really scuttle a message.
So, in the first of an occasional series, let’s look at some commercials that really probably seemed like a much better idea on the drawing boards than they turned out to be in execution. And, our first guest in the spotlight is Microsoft.
First, let me state in the interest of full disclosure that I have been accused of being a Mac fanboy, and that’s a fair cop. This isn’t, however, a “Mac Vs. PC” thing. This is a “Microsoft is one of the nation’s biggest companies and can’t seem to put together a decent commercial if someone held a gun to their puppy’s head” thing. Seriously, why can’t Microsoft, who can hire pretty much any ad agency they’d like, come up with a campaign that’s not:
I mean, really. Let’s take a look at some of Microsoft’s Greatest “Hits”
Kylie is a PC, and she’s 4 ½
Description: Kylie (who by all standards is very cute) took a picture of her fish (Dorothy, I believe she says), uploads it from a camera, hits a few buttons to make it “better,” then e-mails it to her mom and dad.
Intended message: This is so easy to use that a 4.5-year-old girl can use it.
Actual message: If you can’t use it when a 4.5-year-old girl can, you’re pretty dumb and might as well get out of the way as society zooms past you.
Analysis: It’s always tricky to use children in advertisements, because they can ride that line between “Oh, how cute” and “Oh, dear God, get your cloying face out of my face.” Taking technical advice from them is … problematic at best. Also, if you sit a child in front of a computer, that computer will suddenly be infected with about 87 pieces of malware when they download that “Spongebob Squarepants” game (just like children can be germ factories, they apparently are also malware writers). And, y’know, kids actually pick these things up pretty quickly anyway. I’ve heard people say their two-year-olds can work a iPad, but if I handed one to my Mom, I would just get a blank stare.
Does it work? It does get the point across that Windows computers are easy to use. If you’ve ever actually used a computer, though, you’ll soon find out that it’s up to YOU to configure all the software, change the settings, set up the accounts, hack the “Spongebob” malware bomb out of the registry, etc. so that your adorable daughter can e-mail you a picture of a fish, and make grandma (who can’t figure out how to use the trackpad) look like a chump in the meantime.
PC Laptop Hunters – Lisa and Jackson
Description: Soccer-Mom Lisa and her 11-year-old son Jackson (who is in dire need of a haircut) are looking for a computer for under $1500 to meet both of their needs. So they head out to Best Buy and shop around, looking at both PCs and Macs, and finally settle on a Sony VAIO, at which point their given the money to go buy it by a disembodied hand.
Intended Message: If you shop around and look at the features, you’ll get more computer for your money if you buy a Windows machine.
Actual Message: You can trust creepy people handing out money in the parking lot.
Analysis: It’s true that laptops that run Windows are by and large cheaper than Macs. It’s true that you can get things on Windows laptops that you can’t get on Mac laptops (blu-ray for one, which has always been a bone of contention for me, as well). So, if a Mom and her son can agree on a laptop and some dude in the parking lot gives them the money to buy it, we can all agree it’s a win-win. You could say the same thing about an expensive sports can vs. a sensible compact, as well. Driving the expensive sports car is fun and it goes from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, but the compact has more cup-holders, and eventually gets to 60. I know that sounds snarky, but not every computer is right for every person. Also, they never go into why WINDOWS is better — just that there are a lot of different laptops at different price points, and Best Buy has them. Basically, this is a commercial with many different products.
The music in the background is uberannoying, as well.
Does it work? To a point. Jackson and his mom look happy, and they’ll probably be satisfied with their purchase (until Jackson infects the family laptop with malware and Mom can’t get to the report she wrote for work anymore — see the “kids generate malware” argument above). If dad, however, wanted to use the laptop for graphic design or some other use that Macs are more qualified for, like stability, he’s SOL. Guess he shoulda came with when the guy in the parking lot was handing out free cash.
BTW, this was one of a series of “Laptop Hunter” commercials that got increasingly shrill as the campaign went on. My favorite was the one where the girl wanted a laptop for her “video production” job and came out with a machine woefully underpowered for any real production work.
Windows 7 Was My Idea
Description: Jack (we don’t know if that’s his real name) is holding a laptop, and said he had an idea in the shower to make using a computer “simpler,” and danged if Microsoft didn’t take that idea and run with it in Windows 7.
Intended Message: Computers running Windows are easy to use.
Actual Message: Jack is an idiot, but not as big an idiot as his wife, who for some reason married him.
Analysis: Jack, who looks like an even-more schlubby Seth Rogan than Seth Rogan, (but in his daydream “reenactment” kinda looks like one of the guys in Tears for Fears), comes up with a ground-breaking idea to “make PCs simpler.” Bascially, this is what Microsoft thinks of its consumers: They’re not really very bright, and will be easily impressed with windows that snap into place. Windows 7 actually was a huge step above Windows Vista, but they can’t really say THAT, because that would be admitting that Vista was basically a beta test sprang on their customer base at $129 or more a pop). So, instead, this campaign (there were several of “my idea” commercials, but Jack was by far the most insulting) insinuated that Microsoft had listened to the “ideas” (or “complaints”) of their customers and launched an operating system for “everyone.”
Also, Jack is a momma’s boy (proof at :24).
Does it Work? Nope. I’ve known people like Jack, and I wouldn’t trust them if they told me it was raining outside. Am I trusting them for their advice on a machine that affects my workflow? Please.
Personal PC Store
Description: Cheryl is using an old computer, and for this unforgivable crime, her house is broken into and made to look like a computer store. She is told that there are new computers available, and get gets one. No mention is ever made if she ever gets her living room back in the condition she left it in.
Intended Message: They’re still making computers.
Actual Message: Um, they’re still making computers?
Analysis: This campaign is kind of baffling. There have been three or four commercials in this series, and they’re all the same. A person hasn’t updated their computer for a while, and while they’re away, new walls, shelving units and displays are put up to showcase various computers. They come home and are (understandably) aghast at what has been done to their home. Instead of screaming “What the hell did you do to my house?” to the “computer salesman” who greets them (and, seriously, what kind of nightmare would it be to come home after a long day to be greeted by a salesman — WHO IS INSIDE YOUR HOUSE), they listen as the salesman starts a sales pitch about why the computer, which they’ve apparently been satisfied with, is inadequate for today’s rock’em sock’em world. Impressed, they get a new computer. Why is Windows better? That’s not discussed. What IS discussed is that there are computers in the world newer than yours.
Does It Work? Well, I know that there are new computers, but I knew that before; I suppose it reinforces that knowledge, so it works on that level. That’s just a really puzzling level to aim for.
Agree? Disagree? See a commercial that you’d like to discuss? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org