This week, Microsoft released a new ad (the top one on this page) for the Windows phone platform. The action starts at a wedding where one side has iPhones and the other has huge Android phones. Then both sides start slinging what Samsung has been saying in ads about Apple (iPhones are for old people) and the Apple folks express the sentiments of Apple’s CEO Tim Cook that big phones are stupid. The two sides end up in a brawl, and the best part is a guy ripping off his shirt to show a big Apple chest tattoo and then getting clocked with a chair tossed by one of the Android folks. At the end, a couple of folks calmly using Nokia 920s comments that it is all pretty foolish as they capture YouTube moments on their phones. It is funny, though a bit inside baseball because you’d have to be able to connect back the comments folks are making about the iPhone and Android phones to what the companies had said in order to understand the joke.
For years, I tried to convince Microsoft to try to use a sense of humor in advertising. I was convinced that, if done right, at the very least it would change perceptions about the company.
Microsoft’s Comedy History
While Bill Gates was running the company, the firm had a history of funny videos that few actually got to see. These videos were shown at CES keynotes, analyst events, and developers’ events. One of the best was a copy of a VW commercial at the time. In the VW commercial, two folks were driving along. They saw a chair on the side of the road that was free to anyone who wanted it. They pick up the chair but notice, while driving, that it has a distinct and unpleasant odor, so they drop it on another corner. The VW message was that the car (a Golf, I think) had a ton of room.
The Microsoft spin on this had Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer driving a similar car. They saw a Sun server on the side of the road for free. The message was that Sun stunk. It was funny and it got the point across. (I found the video here).
At another event, they had the history of computing and they had the founder of Netscape taped saying he was going to be the next Bill Gates -- which didn’t turn out so well. It was full of cameos by industry luminaries saying funny or ironic things as part of the effort. However, the end was the best part because it talked about a coming show that would focus on tech CEOs and their obsession with sailing, a clear swipe at Oracle’s Larry Ellison. but tastefully done. The room roared.
When Bill retired from day-to-day operations at Microsoft, there was a short video with him talking and then driving off with his briefcase on top of the car. It was a little thing but it was the ability for Microsoft to make fun of itself while also taking shots at competitors that made these things so memorable and it is a shame that you can’t find many on the Web.
Humor is hard to Do
One of the best funny campaigns was actually done by old Microsoft rival IBM. In this link, you’ll see one of my favorites -- the guy with the magic beans that create a perfect IT infrastructure. The guy eats the bean and you know that it isn’t going to end well.
But humor is hard to do; there is a thin line between funny, annoying, childish, stupid, and suicidal. You tell the wrong joke to the right crowd and you could do a lot of brand damage. You might recall the US President made a comment about an attractive District Attorney and personal friend that should have been humorous simply implying she was better looking than her male peers and he got pounded for promoting a sexual stereotype. Personally, I think some folks are wound too tight but it takes a lot of guts to do this kind of humor and it is nice to see Microsoft step up.
Wrapping Up: More to Come
My hope is we have more of these commercial coming. I enjoy them and, given how many dire things we have to deal with in a given week from out of control dictators to domestic terrorism, it is nice to have at least one vendor attempt to get humor right. Sometimes it’s the little things.
Edited by Rich Steeves