Do you remember seeing any Microsoft ad on television before these new “I’m a PC” commercials? No, not an Xbox or Zune ad, but a Microsoft Windows ad. An ad for Vista or XP? Don’t worry, I don’t remember either. I know there have been ads for the operating systems, but I don’t remember any of them because they were pretty much forgettable. Why? Microsoft software, specially operating system software like XP or Vista, has never really needed advertisement.
For a long time, when buying a computer from a manufacturer other then Apple, you really didn’t have a choice. Today, manufacturers like Dell and others offer Ubuntu Linux, which is all well and good, but Windows still dominates. A big part of the cost of a computer, or “PC”, is the Windows OS. The only way to get a computer without Windows is to basically build one. Suffice to say, it’s not hard to demonstrate that Microsoft controls the computer industry, without even making a computer.
Microsoft has made the personal computer, the PC, no matter if it’s a Dell, Sony, or whatever, into a generic computer. A generic product. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber makes a very strong point about this when reacting to the new ads:
And so what makes Microsoft’s new “I’m a PC” commercials so jaw-droppingly bad is that they’re not countering Apple’s message, but instead they’re reinforcing it. That the spots themselves jump between dozens of different people who “are” PCs, that the spots make a point of emphasizing that there are a billion Windows-running PCs worldwide, this only emphasizes that “PC” is not a brand name but a generic.
This reminds me that when the Apple ads where coming out, my big complaint at that time was the use of the term “PC”. “Macs are personal computers too”, I use to tell people. What I saw in those ads was Mac OS X vs Windows. They kind of annoyed me at first, but I eventually ended up liking the “PC guy” more than the “Mac Guy”, which was the generic stereotypical hipster. I was optimistic and thought that people didn’t take these ads seriously. But the interpretation of these ads have transformed from actors playing computers on a commercial, to actual people defining themselves with a brand.
I guess people have always wanted Microsoft to strike back at these ads, but they never did. Bill Gates expressed many times that he didn’t like them, but I don’t think he ever thought it was such a big deal. Microsoft has never needed to attack Apple, it’s always been the other way around, but it seems that they convinced themselves that they had to.
So when it was revealed that Microsoft had a 300 million dollar advertising campaign in the works with Jerry Seinfeld, people expected something big. Something bigger than the “Mac vs PC” ads. What we got is Seinfeld and Gates in a shoe store, eating churros, and trying to connect with “real” people. I actually liked them and thought they were kind of clever, in it’s quirky kind of way. They are like the Geico’s talking Gecko.
And now they have these new ads starting with a John Hodgman look alike saying, “I’m a PC, and I’ve been heavily stereotyped” and other people from very different walks a life saying that they are a “PC”. I’m doubtful of some of the celebrities preferences, the same way I’m doubtful that Gwen Stefani uses HP computers.
Jason Kottke explains why these ads fail:
I briefly worked for a design firm in the late 90s that did a lot of advertising work. One of the hard and fast rules in the office — which was taken from a book written by a successful ad man whose name I cannot recall — was that if a company was #1 in a certain space, their advertising should never ever mention the competition, not even in an oblique fashion. And even if a company was #2, they should do the same and act as if they were #1.
The sad thing about these “Im a PC” ads is that it’s coming from the indirect and subliminal premise of the Mac ads; that these actors playing computers are “real” people -stereotyped or not- anouncing their lifestyle choice.
For all the debate and scandal the Microsoft ads have created, I’m pretty sure it will soon be over. People will forget about them, because nobody needs to be convinced to buy a Microsoft OS. Microsoft doesn’t need to sell an idea. People know that when they buy a computer from a manufacturer other than Apple, they’re buying a “PC.”