“I’m a PC,” begins the latest advertisement from Microsoft, “and I’ve been made into a stereotype.” The line is a riff off the long-running “I’m a Mac” Apple ads. (It’s even delivered by a Microsoft employee dressed up to look like the brown-blazered PC character in those ads.) It’s followed by a host of people, from self-help guru Deepak Chopra to musician Pharrell Williams, proudly declaring “I’m a PC.”
The new strategy, “is all about Apple,” says Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft. The company wants to blunt Apple’s cutesy attack ads and is perhaps more worried about its smaller competitor than it previously let on. But this new strategy is also one Microsoft took a long and rather bizarre path to arrive at. The spot is the third different campaign the company has offered up in just two months—part of a $300-million marketing effort that at times has resembled more three-ring circus than coherent plan.
First came the Mojave experiment, in which it filmed focus groups in “gotcha” moments enjoying its troubled Vista operating system—as if to say, “Ha! You like Vista, you just don’t know it!” That was followed by the already infamous Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates ads. They were amusing (one had the duo living with a suburban family to try and “connect” with real people), but in true Seinfeld form, were about nothing. All along the company suggested the ads were merely teasers but, given how hastily they were dropped, that seemed like a convenient excuse.
The anti-Apple ads suggest there may have been a method to the madness after all. “They did indicate that the Seinfeld ads were more about creating noise than delivering a message,” says Helm, “and now we’ve seen what the message is.” The Bill and Jerry ads ended with Seinfeld asking Gates about the company’s future: “Give me a sign,” he says. Well, if there is one, this is it. Microsoft finally has something to say.