lovehate: The Gates of Seinfeld

The hordes of yea and naysayers hurling their two-bits in about the latest Gates/Seinfeld Microsoft ads have, if nothing else, provided more coverage for the OS giant than almost anything in recent years. And the fact that it may be half good and half bad is at least half better than most of coverage during that time.

It's curious that media critics seem to realize the ads are no different than most other huge companies but... more on that later.

It's the so-called tech experts and bloggers that seem to have the most analysis invested into the most detailed minutae of these spots. On "This Week in Tech" last week, gdgt's Ryan Block performed a deconstruction on the first ad that made the entire spot into an allegory about the "common man's" experience in an Apple Store. On this week's TWiT, John C. Dvorak wondered why the hell Microsoft wasn't "selling" something with such an expensive campaign. Today CNET is reporting that critics are abuzz over the fact that the third installment of the ads will NOT feature Jerry and Bill and, as such, this constitutes a surrender to the bad press and a radical shift in the campaign. Of course further in the article it is revealed that Microsoft actually announced this shift last week and that the dynamic duo would return.

All of this proves one thing: no one is talking about "how bad Vista is" anymore.

Let's get back to how these ads are no different than any other mega-sized company. When was the last time you saw a Nike ad that talked about the new sole design technology or comfortable insoles or crazy grommit technology advancements for the laces. My usual Nike experience is watching someone running in slow-motion while an intended inpsiration passage in read in the background by a famous athlete while a slow string pad crescendos in the background. When was the last time you saw a Coke or Pepsi commercial that talked about the drinks themselves and not just about "wanting to buy the world a Coke" or being "part of the Pepsi Generation". Every McDonald's ad essentially says one thing: "Hey look! We're McDonald's. Try and not be dragged here kicking and screaming by your kids."

Huge brands do not have to sell product, they simply have to sell the brand. The point/counterpoint Apple commercials always have bullet point features that help to explain the great features of Macs because, simply, most people do not have a Mac, most people have not seen a Mac in operation, and most people, if they're going to switch, NEED to be sold on product AND brand but the fact that you will be paying between 30-50% more for an equally-powered system.

A used car lot often has a loudmouth talking a million miles a second trying to explain everything they've got and are selling at lower than everyone else. Commercials from the big automakers show cars whipping around long sweeping mountain curves with techno music pumps up the jam and, if you're lucky, you may get a chromakey blurb or two at the bottom with a logo at the end.

Videogames will often show a bunch of cutscenes strung together with a grandiose synthesized orchestral score. Gatorade will be similar to a Nike commercial with less talking and a lot of orange sweat. How much can you say about potato chips without talking about the thousands of migrant workers that got paid 25% of minimum wage to harvest your Wavy Lay's? How many ads for financial establishments don't include a young or retired couple sitting across from a suit smilling and nodding their heads while words like "easy", "friendly", and "future"?

I'll be the first to admit that these Microsoft ads are clever while not brilliant, and I'm not trying to be an MS Apologist 3.1, but the inner Samuel Beckett in me could not help but revel in the absurdity of the first ad's punchline: "Just wondering, are they ever going to come out with something that will make our computers moist and chewy like cakes so we can just eat them while we are working?" That the agency behind this was brave enough to make it (as every other big company's ads) about nothing, makes me love not the ads themselves, but the mindset that acknowledges the quirky, the bizarre, and the just plain ridiculous still has a place on television. And if anyone spends too much time sitting around WTF'ing their television while these spots are playing, maybe they'll understand when Godot appears.

gates robot