Heaven knows it's getting harder and harder to cast those advertising rainbows, filled with gender diversity and exotic ethnicities and especially happy dark people smiling so wide that they're unthreatening to even the most nervous suburbanites in the kids-lock-your-doors demographic.
Gosh, the new campaign for Microsoft XP from McCann Erickson, San Francisco, just reminds us how much we love the happy-go-lucky world of advertising. Hardly anyone is ugly or mean or stupid or genocidal. Everybody seems so fulfilled and nice.
What's weird, though, is when Microsoft goes rainbow on us, it's more or less true. Windows dominates the market in every country (maybe excluding North Korea, which is too poor and paranoid). Very likely somewhere in Guam a cute little girl in a print dress and sandals is at this very moment digitally editing a home movie or doing a PowerPoint presentation or having an IM exchange with a sexual predator in Samoa.
So, if you can't necessarily give McCann style points for originality, at least you can't accuse it of fraud. Windows truly sends error messages to folks of every hue in every language in the world. Likewise the slogan, "Start something." It's a good one, because XP enables the user to run all manner of amazing applications, all buried beneath that little green "start" button in the lower left-hand corner.
So the tagline is an excellent way to remind us of the product's utilitarian diversity, as well. Let's just hope Microsoft has better luck with it than Oldsmobile did, which asked us to "Start something" with Aurora and to "Start something" with Alero only to stop something with its entire brand.
We can't even fault the creatives for the animated windows and lightbulbs and water lilies and letters and dolphins and various other icons, floating as if on wind currents across the all-white background and around our exotic friends. Never mind how familiar the effect is, nor how amateurishly the actors have been blue-screened onto the background. The fact is, it all evokes an inspiring sense of freedom and discovery. As the voice-over says, "With a world of software and devices that run on Windows, the choice is yours."
You can get into the digital age, or not. You can download music and porn, or not. You can marginalize yourself with Apple, or not.
We therefore believe that this campaign, for all of its cliches, is perfectly suited to the job: namely keeping XP fresh-seeming for at least two more years, while Microsoft desperately works on the successor to the 4-year-old operating system-while those marginalized Apple users get an update basically every year.
That's a lot to ask of a campaign, but it's apt to work. The greatest mass of consumers has been slow to adopt the killer apps available right now. There's plenty of discovery yet to be had.
In fact, by the time the next generation Windows comes out-who knows?-maybe McCann's ethnicity wranglers will sign a smiling Kim Jong-Il. "Start something!" he'll say.
After all, that's his slogan, too.
Review 2.5 stars
Ad: Microsoft XP
Agency: McCann Erickson
Location: San Francisco