Updated: Seinfeld Makes His Microsoft Debut

NEW YORK After taking a pounding from Apple for years about the shortcomings of its PC products, Microsoft is fighting back — with a much-anticipated 90-second commercial starring iconic ’90s comedian Jerry Seinfeld and the software giant’s chairman, Bill Gates, as its first salvo. The spot broke during National Football League coverage last night.

This is the tech giant’s first work from MDC’s Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami, and it marks the kickoff to a wide-ranging $300 million campaign designed to alert consumers to innovations made possible through Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

“Windows is a product that’s been around for a long time,” said David Webster, general manager of brand and marketing strategy at Microsoft. “It’s well-known and part of people’s everyday lives. What people don’t know is that Windows has kept pace with the changes in people’s lives today. We thought it was a good time to catch people up with what Windows was doing.”

The ad with Seinfeld and Gates tells the story of the odd couple’s day at discount emporium Shoe Circus in the mall, where Gates buys a snappy faux-leather number called “The Conquistador.” It employs quick-cut editing and the kind of “humor from nothing” approach that defined Seinfeld’s TV series. As they exit the store, Seinfeld asks if Microsoft is working on something to make computers “moist and chewy like cake, so we can eat ’em while we’re working.” Seinfeld tells Gates to adjust his underwear if the answer is yes, and the software mogul does so, much to the comic’s delight.

The commercial closes with the words “The future. Delicious.” There’s no overt sales pitch for specific Microsoft products like the oft-maligned Windows Vista operating system, though the company’s logo does appear briefly.

Immediate reaction on the Web was almost as intense as the run-up to the clip’s debut — and generally just as negative. Gizmodo said the spot “makes no sense,” while Seeking Alpha trotted out a well-worn line from Seinfeld and opined that the ad “is about nothing.” CrunchGear, possibly the first blog to post the work online, noted: “While this ad doesn’t really tell us anything about Microsoft or its products, it does tell us that someday computers will be edible. So there’s that. Gates is kinda funny, too.”

Adweek’s ad critic Barbara Lippert gave the effort a mixed review. AdFreak opined that the clip makes Microsoft seem more accessible.

On Twitter, many were confused about what the ad was trying to accomplish.

Webster termed the ad an “ice-breaker” that would be followed by work touting Windows product benefits.

“Our point of view is: if that was confusing, stay tuned,” he said. “I’m confident that when people see the overall story we’re telling, they’ll understand where we’re going.”

The campaign is one of several steps Microsoft is taking to counter the encroachment made by Apple. The company is also setting up Windows experience stores within retail partners. Like Apple Stores, the Windows locations will be dedicated to troubleshooting and helping consumers find the right products to fit their lifestyles. In another similarity, Microsoft is staffing the stores with “Gurus” — Apple has “Geniuses.”

What’s more, Microsoft is working with its equipment manufacturers to make the Windows set-up process less cumbersome. Apple has won kudos for its stress-free out-of-box Macintosh computer set-up.

Microsoft has also overhauled Windows.com to make it more user-friendly and less about “speeds and feeds,” Webster said.

Despite the similarities to Apple’s playbook, Webster said Microsoft is not reacting to its rival. Unlike Apple, Microsoft has no plans to draw contrasts with the latter in its ads.

“We’ve crossed the line where we’re not going to let a competitor define our story anymore,” he said. “We want to tell our story not somebody else’s.”

Webster disagreed with criticism of Seinfeld, saying his appeal to Microsoft was that he has broad appeal among many audiences, young and old — much like Windows’ diverse customer base.

“He has multi-generational relevance,” he said, citing the popularity of Seinfeld in syndication with young audiences. “He’s not a super-trendy, flash-in-the-pan guy.”

This story updates and replaces an item posted yesterday with Webster’s interview and additional details.