Seinfeld’s a ‘Funny’ Choice for Microsoft

While awaiting the Sept. 4 release of Microsoft Windows’ ad campaign, I’m still reeling from the announcement that the company has hired Jerry Seinfeld as its pitchman. Really? Was Michael Bolton busy?

The pick is so preposterously unhip it’s as if the company had unconsciously internalized all of Apple’s knocks against the poor, frustrated PC guy. I actually wondered whether The Wall Street Journal — the first to report the purportedly $10 million deal — got punk’d. (Come to think of it, Ashton Kutcher and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, would be better choices for Microsoft ads — at least their selection would seem more contemporary.)

The fact that the deal is reportedly coming from the uber-groovy Crispin Porter + Bogusky added to the possibility that it was all a hoax. (Principals Chuck Porter and Alex Bogusky recently announced they’re publishing The Nine Inch Diet, a book on curing obesity through portion control. Their shop promotes Burger King. That would have to be a Whopper Junior Junior, please, no fries.) The agency’s spokesperson said the book was real and issued a firm “no comment” on Microsoft.

To me, Seinfeld is such an embodiment of the ’90s (the early ’90s, at that, when Microsoft practically had the whole world to itself) that hiring Seinfeld seems an almost poignant attempt to return to its heyday. It’s like Sunset Boulevard, a movie in which Gloria Swanson, playing an aging actress from the silent picture days, insists she’s still big. (“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” she famously said.)

The craziest part, obviously, is that Microsoft is not only big, it is, in fact, humongous. No matter how much Apple is growing in the consumer market, in the business world, some 800 million PCs worldwide run some form of Windows and that’s not going to change soon (even with MS briefly shooting itself in the foot with Vista).

It’s Microsoft’s image that got small. And that’s because, unlike Apple, Bill Gates’ company never found, stuck with, or believed in its own version of a Lee Clow — an agency partner whose talent and sophisticated vision was sacrosanct. Instead, the company seems to transfer its unyielding stodginess as a client from one agency to the next.

Perhaps that’s where Microsoft and Jerry connect — on the “Micro” level. His show was all about nothing, and he fixates on tiny details and makes fun of them.

The irony is that in watching Apple’s brilliant “Mac vs. PC” campaign, viewers really prefer the PC guy (John Hodgman of The Daily Show fame, the TV show that embodies the humor of the moment). Despite having a system that’s much cooler and does great graphics, Justin Long, the Mac guy, is kind of a twit. The clever ads have managed to batter Vista, but there’s still a huge opportunity to respond and turn those spots to Microsoft’s advantage.

Meanwhile, maybe Seinfeld plans to sell Vista to the residents of Boca Vista.

And oy, would they complain.