Microsoft Taps 'Family Guy' to Help Sell Windows 7

Inks Branded-Entertainment Deal With Seth MacFarlane for Commercial-Free Variety Show on Fox

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NEW YORK ( -- To sell people on the merits of its latest operating system, Windows 7, Microsoft has employed good old-fashioned PR and the saccharine sweetness of young Kylie. Now it's counting on Hollywood for a big push.

The software giant has signed a deal with Fox to sponsor a variety show produced by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, voice of the family guy himself, Peter Griffin, and actress Alex Borstein, who plays wife Lois Griffin. The show will air Nov. 8 without commercial interruption -- because it will instead feature Windows-branded programming throughout the program.

Late last year, 'Family Guy' creator and voice of Peter Griffin, Seth MacFarlane, and Alex Borstein, the voice of Lois Griffin, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The branded-entertainment deal is a collaboration between Microsoft, the brand-friendly Mr. MacFarlane and Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, the ad agency responsible for the multimillion-dollar worldwide Windows 7 push. Microsoft's media agency, Universal McCann, was also involved in brokering the deal. Mr. MacFarlane and Crispin have worked together before on "Cavalcade of Comedy," Mr. MacFarlane's online-video series that ran on YouTube and Google's AdSense network and was sponsored by Crispin client Burger King.

The Microsoft-sponsored variety show, whose working title is "Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show," is a mix of live-action "Family Guy" musical performances, animated shorts and celebrity guest appearances, and is part of an all-Seth MacFarlane night on Fox. The software company wouldn't elaborate on what exactly the Microsoft integrations would look like or possible scenarios in which Windows 7 could play a starring role, but said Crispin's copywriter and art director on the Windows campaign were working closely with Mr. MacFarlane and Ms. Borstein.

"You'll see us deeply integrated into the content ... you'll hear a lot about how Windows 7 can help you simplify your PC -- it's simple, fast and easy to use," said Gayle Troberman, general manager of consumer engagement and advertising at Microsoft. She went on: "Think about metaphors and examples we might use, talking about how simple things are. We'll be evoking the cast of 'Family Guy' in some interesting ways that integrate the product messages."

Ms. Troberman, who headed branded entertainment at Microsoft's MSN before assuming her current post, said Microsoft turned to Hollywood for content integration and programming for the launch of the search engine Bing and saw "some phenomenal results," which is why it's employing the same strategy for Windows 7. Specifically, she said, they noticed that branded entertainment helped amplify traditional-media buys.

"Consumers exposed to both branded entertainment and advertising have more positive reactions," she said. Some of the branded-entertainment elements will extend to the web as well. But working an operating system into content isn't as easy as, say, talking about an energy drink or even a search engine.

"As much as [an operating system is] a product you interact with every day, it's not something most people can put a definition around," she said. "What we've found is seeing is really believing. ... That's a lot of what you'll see us do in the advertising and the branded integration ... give people a chance to see the product and interact with the product."

The MacFarlane sponsorship is part of a broader deal with the News corp.-owned network through its Fox ONE multiplatform sales group and also includes 20th Century Fox Television, Fox Licensing and Merchandising, Fox Sports, FX, Fox Sports on MSN and Hulu. Another part of the Fox deal has Microsoft working with its licensing division for a 12-week college tour that will let students try out Windows 7 and receive custom content, such as outdoor movie nights hosted by "Family Guy" characters Stewie and Brian.

The push around Windows 7, which officially launches October 22, has largely fueled by TV and will also lean heavily on digital. So far, the reaction to the marketing has been mixed. It's been boosted by largely positive reviews in the marketplace, to which Microsoft has smartly been calling people's attention in TV spots. But a five-minute web video promoting in-house, Tupperware-style Windows 7 launch parties has for the past couple weeks been the butt of many a joke, even making it onto Ad Age's Viral Video Chart twice.

Ms. Troberman wouldn't comment on the size of the deal but said the overall Windows 7 push is one of the "largest consumer-advertising investments the company has made."

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