The words "Microsoft" and "marketing" go together like oil and water, matter and antimatter, humility and Donald Trump.
For decades, the lumbering software giant has attempted to sway the general public via TV commercials. It's a long and ugly history of failure. There are so many examples of terrible Microsoft ads, it's hard to pick out the worst ones, but I'll try.
[ Cash in on your IT stories! Send your IT tales to firstname.lastname@example.org. If we publish it, we'll keep you anonymous and send you a $50 American Express gift cheque. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]
Take, for example, those cringe-inducing spots designed to promote Vista starring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. Watching Gates wiggle his butt on screen has permanently altered my psyche in a way no amount of psychotropic drugs can ever fix. The more I watched them, the worse they got. I can also never look at churros the same way ever again.
Then there were those what-were-they-smoking ads that featured a Windows Phone 7 user strolling serenely through an hallucinogenic landscape of iPeople mesmerized by their iDevices, set to the tune of Donovan's "Season of the Witch." That one came with the tagline "It's time for a phone to save us from our phones." I've tried that sentence dozens of ways, substituting different nouns for "phone" each time, and I still can't get it to make sense.
Microsoft swats at Samsung and Apple
I'd pretty much given up on Microsoft ever mastering the art of the TV commercial, a form of media that has after all only been in existence for about 70 years. Then, today, Redmond released its latest assault on Apple and Samsung phones, and I'm shocked to report that the Microsofties may have finally gotten it right.
Check out the following ad for the Nokia Lumia 920, one of the latest Windows 8 handsets:
For those of you who wish to skip the one-minute video, let me summarize: Big wedding. Groom's family all iPhone users; bride's strictly Samsung. A melee ensues.
It's a hoot. The best and funniest part? The tiny type that shows up on the bottom of screen as some poor wedding guest is blown through the air and lands on the wedding cake: "Do not attempt."
The second best part: The tagline "Don't fight. Switch." A nice shout-out to those old Tareyton commercials. Who ever thought we'd get nostalgic for cigarette ads? (I blame "Mad Men.")
This ad says almost nothing about the Nokia phone itself, besides the fact that it is very yellow, but it deftly skewers the Apple/Android holy war that has been waged over the last few years, as well as the people who've insisted on waging it.
As I've written before, I use and actually like my Windows phone. While I was having serious issues with my HTC 8X freezing up and/or powering down recently, the refurb unit I got in exchange has yet to misbehave. Fingers remain crossed.
Smartphone secrets: They're not so different
But the thing that almost nobody talks about is that, when you come right down to it, smartphones aren't really that different from each other. They all do what they're supposed to do: provide a continuous ubiquitous connection to the Internet (and make calls). There is no longer one unit that shines above all others. Nobody's latest whatever is heads and shoulders above any other; any unique features a new handset may boast will quickly be copied by the next generation appearing next month. Really, the war is over; the news just hasn't reached the front yet.
Picking which phone you want to carry is no longer about the phone. It's about the image of yourself the phone generates. It's not about the code inside the phone, it's about the algorithms between your ears. Are you an iPhone snob or an Android acolyte? That's it.
This ad shows that Microsoft understands this. It can't make its own handsets seem cool, so it's taking the opposite tack: Making fans of the other handsets look ridiculous. Strangely, that might just work.
What's your most or least favorite Microsoft ad? Nominate yours below or email me: email@example.com.
This article, "Now playing: Must-see TV from ... Microsoft?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.