The Empire Strikes Back!

If you haven't been paying attention, over the past couple of weeks Microsoft has been releasing a series of advertisements designed to boost their image and tell their story.  The first commercial featured Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld together in a shoe store, and the second had Gates and Seinfeld move in with an ordinary American family. 

This past week, Microsoft moved into the third phase of its advertising campaign, entitled "I'm a PC".  It's pretty good, if you haven't seen it, you should check it out.


I think that these are a very clever series of ads.  After the first one you could be forgiven for not knowing what the point of the ad was, and while the second had a definite story, you still might not know where Microsoft was going.  But certainly, after releasing the third one, we can definitely work our way backwards and figure out what the deal was with the first two.

Let me attempt to give my interpretation.

The third ad is a direct response to Apple's "Mac vs PC" ads.  Microsoft's ad says that PCs are for everyone, from the Obama blogger to the McCain broadcaster to the African school teacher.  It pokes fun at the Apple ads as if to imply that Macs are elitist; geeks use PCs whereas cool people use Macs.  Microsoft counters by saying that not everyone is cool, we all have our own roles in life and there's nothing wrong with that.  PCs are for everyone from all walks of life.

So how does this fit in with Gates and Seinfeld?  Consider the message in the third ad - that PCs span all social stratifications.  In the first ad, Gates and Seinfeld are quirky; Jerry wears his clothes in the shower and Gates has his discount card which he has had for 30 years.  The two are a little out of touch, but they, too, are PCs.

The second ad shows Gates and Seinfeld attempting to connect with a real, average American family.  This one has more of a storyline and comedic feel to it.  It's designed to show the humorous side of Microsoft.  But while we do have an element of "I'm a PC" foreshadowed in both of these ads, the real message is very subtle and you could miss it: at the end of the first commercial, Seinfeld asks Gates if Microsoft is coming up with something to make computers yummy and delicious.  In the second ad, Seinfeld asks Gates if Microsoft is coming up with a frog with an email, or a goldfish with a web page.  In all  of these cases, Gates responds in the affirmative.

This is a joke, of course, but the point is further clarified at the end of the third commercial: Life without walls.  The slogan "Life without walls" is about how software enables people to go further beyond what was previously possible.  The schoolteacher in Africa can connect with a billion people.  The environmentalist in the arctic can connect with supports back home.  Barriers that were previously huge obstacles (in this case, remote isolation) are now overcome; what was once a wall is now no longer there.  Software enables us to live life without walls. 

That's what Seinfeld and Gates are alluding to in both commercials.  Turning computers into something delicious is a wall because computers are not food.  Frogs cannot do email, goldfish cannot create web pages.  These are walls.  When Gates responds by saying "yes, we are working on these features", he is effectively saying that Microsoft is working on software that will break these walls down.  Things that are obstacles are obstacles no longer.

So that's what I think.  How about you?

Comments (4)

  1. ndiamond says:

    "Microsoft counters by saying that not everyone is cool, we all have our own roles in life and there’s nothing wrong with that.  PCs are for everyone from all walks of life."

    It would be nice if Microsoft would make it work that way before publishing advertisements asserting that it works that way.  The habit of making backups is too cool for Microsoft, and even last week, incredibly, a Microsoft apologist still asserted that backups are too much of a very special situation.  Windows aren’t for some walks of life.  Oh wait.  PCs really are for everyone from all walks of life, not for us idiots who take walks of death when all we wanted to do was keep backups.

    (Nothing personal Mr. Zink, but it still gets my goat and you happened to be the one describing yet another crap assertion this time.)

    OK, now for something closer to home.

    "The schoolteacher in Africa can connect with a billion people."

    That is largely true.  And for the most part she will connect by cell phone.  And for the most part she will pay more in telephone charges for downloading a ton of spams than the amount that most spammers have paid even after getting caught.  And that might cost her more than a day’s salary.

  2. Gabe says:

    I just want to thank ndiamond for NOT mentioning any other product during his anti-Microsoft rant (as if there’s a vaiable alternative).

  3. Norman Diamond says:

    At the time when the Microsoft tax for Windows 95 was unavailable, Windows NT4 was available as a packaged product.  Anyone who wanted NT4 (except on crippled hardware) would have to pay for the full package because upgrade didn’t accept the garbage (95) which was already paid for.

    Although Linux was virtually unusable as a desktop system, it had the same 2.5 advantages that it always had:

    (1)  You DO get what you paid for (except if you paid for it).

    (2)  When it needs fixing, if you’re a programmer then you DO have a snowball’s chance in hell of fixing it.

    (2.5)  I never saw it create overlapping partitions.  Unfortunately I’ve read someone’s assertion that it did for them, but never saw details, so I don’t know if it repros in 10 minutes.

    "PCs are for everyone from all walks of life."

    Still utter garbage.  I still wish Microsoft would work as hard on its actual products as it does on its advertisements.

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