Microsoft kicks off $300M Seinfeld ad campaign

MICROSOFT/MARKETING:Microsoft kicks off $300 mln Windows marketing push

Aiming to reboot the image of Windows, Microsoft MSFT has kicked off its largest-ever consumer ad campaign with a commercial — about nothing.

Ad experts differ on whether it's getting its money's worth from the widely aired, costly ad (in 60- and 90-second versions) starring founder Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, star of 1990s sit-com Seinfeld that was famously about nothing.

The ad features classic Seinfeld-like banter as Gates shops at a cheesy mall shoe store. It mentions Microsoft only once near the end (about making PCs "delicious") and the Windows logo is shown briefy at the close.

The ambiguity is by design, says David Webster, Microsoft general manager of brand and marketing strategy. It's "an icebreaker" for a broad effort to include print, outdoor, online and TV ads and Windows store promotion.

"Getting people talking about it was the goal" says Webster, who would not reveal the budget for the effort or what Seinfeld is being paid.

Branding expert Irma Zandl has doubts using Seinfeld. "It gives a sense of yesterday, not today — or tomorrow, which is especially important with a technology company," she says. "It's like celebrating the typewriter."

Seinfeld's 22 Q score, the industry measure of celeb likability from Marketing Evaluations, The Q Scores Company, is 22, above the entertainment celebrity average of 17 and in line celebs such as Judge Judy and William Shatner. But it trails the likes of Will Smith (47) and Tom Hanks (46).

Still, Noreen Jenny, president, Celebrity Endorsement Network, which matches celebs with advertisers, says, Seinfeld has "broad appeal. The show was so amazingly successful and has been in syndication so long that even kids know him."

IDC analyst Al Gille says Windows image has been hit by Apple's humorously biting TV ads that personify a Mac as a young, hip guy and a Windows PCs as goofy, gray-suited geek. "Apple has really been making a mockery of Microsoft."

Gillen says Microsoft needs to respond because of the perceptions, not due to any threat to the market dominance of Windows, which powers 93% of the world's personal computers.

Microsoft's effort to make Windows seem more user-friendly also includes planting "Windows Gurus" to answer users' questions in dedicated Windows sales areas in Best Buy and Circuit City stores.

Those gurus could help Microsoft battle the boost in brand loyalty Apple has gained with "Genius Bars" in its stores, says Gillen. "The Apple stores have been pretty successful as a knowledge center that users can get information from. Microsoft has had nothing on the consumer side."