Vanity Fair asks advertising agencies about Microsoft’s Seinfeld campaign

Confronting a gaggle of advertising experts with the befuddling Seinfeld Windows Vista campaign and asking them what they think, Vanity Fair has posted the responses in ironic, old-school, Windows XP error boxes.

Needless to say, some hack whipped out the old “Any publicity is good publicity” canard:

anna.gif

The problem with this whole theory is that it’s easy to get people to talk about you. For example, if I went to a metropolitan discotheque to try to pick up slinkily-dressed floozies, but then toss back ten vodka doubles, excrete in the middle of the dance floor and then split my head open on the rim of the toilet bowl as I combine micturating with passing out, there’d be no shortage of people willing to gossip about my actions at the end of the night. There would, however, be a complete lack of women willing to pay me to have sex with them. As an act of epic stupidity, my display might have been amusing; as a seduction technique, it would have been an abysmal failure.

My point: advertising is about seduction, not mere awareness. Any product can “raise awareness” by being epically incompetent. A car that spontaneously explodes every time an infant is detected in the backseat will certainly “raise brand awareness,” but it’s not exactly going to sell any cars.

Microsoft’s Seinfeld campaign was in direct response nor just to Apple’s blistering “Get a Mac” series of ads, but more importantly to Vista’s disastrous reception by a public that considered the OS to be be puzzling, inconsistent, bloated and buggy. Responding to that with a self-indulgent series of puzzling, inconsistent, bloated and buggy ads was such a forehead-slapping blunder that it raises serious questions about the qualifications of any ad agent defending the campaign. Does the curiously named Anne Bologna understand even the most basic truth about advertising: that an ad isn’t just about eliciting incredulous WTFs, but about selling a product to consumers by saying something good about it?

Or, in the words of Zain Raj:

zain.gif

Error Message: The Microsoft Advertising Campaign [Vanity Fair]

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20 Responses to Vanity Fair asks advertising agencies about Microsoft’s Seinfeld campaign

  1. Tubman says:

    @#11, Mr McFeely: If you want evidence that negative publicity has negative effects, try Googling “Gerald Ratner”.

    The concept that “any publicity is good publicity” is based on the idea that it’s better for people to know of your brand in a bad light than not at all, ergo it can only apply to brands which aren’t already universally known.

    Unless you can show that there are people who were previously unaware of the existence of Vista prior to hearing bad things about it, Rob’s got nothing to prove.

  2. Rob Beschizza says:

    We need empirical evidence that negative publicity can have embarrassing effects?

    This is going to be one of those cases where ordinary claims require ordinary evidence.

  3. mrmcfeely says:

    We need empirical evidence that negative publicity can have embarrassing effects?

    You got it wrong… I’m interested in evidence that negative/embarrassing publicity has negative effects in the long run. Sometimes actual reality doesn’t line up with what makes sense in your head (eg, http://job.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/41/2/192)… you know, science.

  4. Rob Beschizza says:

    Ah. I see what you did there. “In the long run.” The goalposts move.

    I fear they will keep moving, too. How do you empirically measure embarrassment?

    Or let’s put it this way: under what circumstances will you accept that “negative publicity actually has negative effects” over “the long run?”

  5. mrmcfeely says:

    Goalposts didn’t move… maybe I didn’t make my original question clear.

    All I ever intended to do is to challenge John’s statment that the ol’ “Any publicity is good publicity” is false. He’s made his hypothesis, but there’s no science in his reply. He’s set up a bunch of hypotheticals in support of his point, but never actually tried to disprove his point, or address any evidence to the contrary, or even mention if there’s any evidence that negative/embarrasing publicity actually hurts or helps sales. There’s absolutely no method to his argument, which makes it an uninformed opinion statement. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method#Truth_and_belief

    In other words, “I see what you’re saying, but I’m not convinced… prove it”

  6. mrmcfeely says:

    Arikol: Psychology != marketing, though I understand the two are very closely intertwined. I’d be more interested in hearing about actual marketing effects, not “what should happen” based on psychological principles. For example, in Cialdini’s book there’s an example of a store owner who wasn’t able to sell much of her stock until the price was accidentally doubled, which seems to defy common reason.

    Tubman: I googled Ratner, and that was pretty interesting… never heard that story before. That seems like a different case though, one where you have an executive explicitly denigrating his own products, which isn’t what MS has done. I’m still not convinced that this embarrassment of an ad won’t somehow end up benefiting MS in the end… can the mere fact that people (normal people, not the technocrats) are “noticing” Vista again help? Sure, a lot of us who follow this blog know all about the flaws of Vista, but isn’t it possible that there’s a whole population of people out there who don’t follow the latest OS wars and all the information they get is from ads?

    BTW, John has the burden of proof, since he’s the one making the hypothesis. Unless, of course, this is all just a blind pronouncement of opinion and not a discussion (which, given his one curt response, is a real possibility).

  7. joelphillips says:

    The ads worked for me.

    Microsoft spent quite a lot of money to entertain me during a commercial break that would otherwise have been filled with attempts to convince me that I should speak to my doctor about some made up disease or that, in the event of my dying of said disease, I really need a life insurance policy so that my family will be able to afford a nice casket.

    Kudos to them. Next time, though, I want them to go further. Buy out all the ad breaks. One 10 second announcement at the beginning: “This two hour film will be screened uncut in two hours, rather than mutilated and in three hours, thanks to Microsoft”.

  8. historyman68 says:

    @Elvis Gump #19 – that’s hilarious. Thinking of some of those lines in Seinfeld’s voice made me laugh out loud.

  9. Anonymous says:

    i like turtles.

  10. John Brownlee says:

    There is no “empirical proof” for corporate “embarrassment”. There’s only subjective proof that some advertising campaigns make people less likely to be customers, not more so, or keep them ambivalent. I thought Microsoft’s Seinfeld spots are a good example of that: they confuse, and they don’t get any message across.

    What this is really about is you’re offended I was flip with you and so you’re in a huff. I’m sorry about that, but I thought your counter supposition — that a person who shits himself in public would be a man some woman might be “intrigued” by and want to have a conversation with — wasn’t worth taking seriously: it’s patently absurd and totally out of whack with reality. You’ll notice, though, I’m not asking you for empirical proof to come up with the shit-smeared Lothario who would make me eat my words. Maybe I should, though! I’d love to know that guy’s secrets.

  11. mrmcfeely says:

    There is no “empirical proof” for corporate “embarrassment”. There’s only subjective proof that some advertising campaigns make people less likely to be customers, not more so, or keep them ambivalent. I thought Microsoft’s Seinfeld spots are a good example of that: they confuse, and they don’t get any message across.

    I agree… the ad was confusing, and didn’t get any message across. However, I have a hard time believing there’s no science in evaluating these types of advertising blunders, only subjectivity… especially given the sheer amount of money put into these things.

    What this is really about is you’re offended I was flip with you and so you’re in a huff.

    Whoa, there’s a huge assumption right there, and a totally incorrect one at that! There are all kinds of names I could call you and assumptions I could make about your motivations in return, but I won’t.

    You’re right, my original supposition sucked, and didn’t really express the simple fact that I doubted your logic and wanted more concrete proof that the statement “All publicity is good publicity” is total crap. For the record, though, I’ve known some folks who have embarrassed themselves publicly only to be the center of attention later because they had such a “great story” to tell… it’s not like they’re still carrying a load in their pants.

  12. mujadaddy says:

    Windows 95 error boxes? The tops are CLEARLY winXP error boxes :P :)

  13. mujadaddy says:

    …and replace “old-school” with “640×480 screen resolution” :D

  14. aj says:

    WRONG.

    The purpose of the Microsoft “I’m a PC” ad is to NEUTRALIZE the Apple ads. Once they run a bunch of these, people will get sick of the Apple ads or fast forward through them more often. They won’t sell a single copy of Windows via these ads, but they don’t have to – that’s not what they are for.

  15. Elvis Gump says:

    My idea is that they should have done something geekier, like tricked themselves in walking around some sci-fi show or movie like those Direct TV commercials…

    Say like this:
    http://flickr.com/photos/22273791@N07/sets/72157607370773648/

  16. arikol says:

    According to psychological studies repeated negative associations with any thing bring on an aversion to that thing.
    You can go with the behaviourist school of psychology for that, but also most other psychology will tell you that.
    Heck, even the relatively non-scientific NLP will tell you that (anchoring).

    As for the above statements, too many studies to mention, but most will recognize Skinner (even Pavlov had studies to that effect).

    Getting burned again and again and then have patronizing bullshit blown your way is mostly likely to give you bad feelings on the subject matter and create bad feelings toward your product and brand.
    Unless you have serious mental issues :)

  17. John Brownlee says:

    “WRONG.” I think you are, at least in this context. You’re talking about the totally wrong campaign, AJ. We’re talking about the Seinfeld ads. The “I’m a PC” ads (which I liked, and said as much here) were a panicked replacement of the Seinfeld campaign.

  18. mrmcfeely says:

    I don’t think your “Any publicity is good publicity” debunking holds up. Given your discotheque example… you won’t bring anyone home that night, but doesn’t it make for a funny story/conversation piece later? Isn’t it possible that some girls would want to meet “that guy”, or at least stop you and start the conversation “hey, weren’t you that guy who…”? The key is that you’re now talking to someone, and you instantly have something interesting to talk about. Getting a conversation going is key… what you say in that conversation is probably even more important (it’ll be interesting to see where MS takes it from here).

    You’re exploding car example is way too hyperbolic to be useful or meaningful in any way. Microsoft’s ad was goofy and embarrassing, not shockingly evil.

  19. John Brownlee says:

    “Given your discotheque example… you won’t bring anyone home that night, but doesn’t it make for a funny story/conversation piece later? Isn’t it possible that some girls would want to meet “that guy?”

    No.

  20. mrmcfeely says:

    Well, it seems pretty clear you’re guilty of modern jackassery, then (not that my completely hypothetical example is any better). If you can dig up some empirical evidence that negative publicity actually has negative effects (negative as in embarrassing, not evil), then your point may have some merit. Otherwise, your point is rooted in your own subjective observation of reality, and is simply a strong, uninformed opinion.

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