Microsoft Seeks to Shatter ‘Walls’

NEW YORK Two weeks after Microsoft debuted spots pairing chairman Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, the company revealed that those ads were designed to tease a branding effort that strives to redefine the image of PC users and wrestle the conversation about Microsoft’s products from arch-rival Apple.

The latter since 2006 has effectively lampooned Microsoft in its “Get a Mac” campaign. The new Microsoft work from Crispin Porter + Bogusky kicks off today with an ad called “Pride,” presenting an actor who resembles John Hodgman (“PC” in Apple’s ads), a cameo by Gates and quick-cuts of real people who use Microsoft-powered PCs in their daily personal and professional lives.

In the 60-second clip, the averages Joes — and Gates, actress Eva Longoria, author Deepak Chopra, basketball star Tony Parker and musician Pharell Williams — all declare, “I’m a PC,” including Gates, who says, “I’m a PC and I wear glasses.”

The spot closes on the brand’s new tagline, “Windows. Life without walls.”

Seinfeld, who co-starred with Gates in two eagerly anticipated but mostly derided ads infused with the surreal humor of his ’90s sitcom, does not appear.

“We needed to gently say to people, We’re back, we’d like to talk to you,'” explained David Webster, general manager of  brand and marketing strategy at Microsoft, of the Seinfeld effort. “When you have been out of the public conversation about a brand for a little bit of time, there is a point where you want to warm people up and get into the conversation a little more smoothly.”

This next phase of the campaign “is taking back the PC brand and telling the truth around what a universe of nearly a billion users love about the product every day,” said Webster. “While it does build on the caricature that Apple created around the PC, this dumpy guy who does not do anything interesting, after that initial point, it’s really not about them, it’s about us and our users.”

The tag’s use of the word “walls” is intended “to describe the various walls that can creep up in your technical life: walls between work and play and home, having to have different solutions from each of those or the walls between the devices you have, the walls between you and people and the services you want to use,” said Webster. “It was a good way to summarize the broad human compatibility that Windows provides.”

As part of the effort to put the spotlight on PC users, the brand is inviting customers to join the conversation. Visitors to Microsoft’s will be able to upload videos and pictures of their stories, which will be showcased on the site and in upcoming outdoor and banner ads and other executions.
“It’s about the real people who use Windows everyday and helping their stories to be told,” said Webster. “It’s on behalf of those users that we felt the need to take back the PC brand.”

He left the door open for a Seinfeld return: “Jerry is a friend of ours. There is always a possibility that he’ll return, but for now that work did its job.”

Late yesterday, Valleywag broke the news that Microsoft’s work teaming Seinfeld and the software giant’s chairman and cofounder Gates would cease. The rep said that effort was always intended as a short-term teaser.

The first Seinfeld-Gates spot, “Shoe Store,” which runs 90 seconds, broke two weeks ago during NFL coverage, while the second ad, “New Family,” more than four minutes in length, debuted at online venues like YouTube last week.

Though panned by most critics — Adweek’s Barbara Lippert offered a mixed review — the work generated a level of intense media and consumer interest usually reserved for Super Bowl advertising.

Microsoft will spend an estimated $300 million on the overall brand-building effort.