Microsoft vs. Apple Fight Enters New Round

In a Sudden Ad Shift, PC Maker Co-Opts Rival's Geeky Character

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After only two weeks, Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates' rambling conversations about nothing have been jettisoned for a new campaign in which Microsoft tries to rebuild an image that has long been battered by rival Apple.
A new spot for Microsoft features a dead ringer for actor John Hodgman.
A new spot for Microsoft features a dead ringer for actor John Hodgman.

A new 60-second spot breaking today for Microsoft from agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky opens with a dead ringer for actor John Hodgman, who plays PC in Apple's popular "Mac vs. PC" advertising campaign. "Hello. I'm a PC. And I've been made into a stereotype," the character in Microsoft's ad laments.

PC users are everywhere
The ad introduces viewers to PC users around the world, including Microsoft employees (even Mr. Gates), children, an astronaut, an environmentalist and celebrities such as star couple Tony Parker and Eva Longoria Parker, hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams and Deepak Chopra. It wraps with the debut of a new tagline, "Life Without Walls." There's a 15-second version of the spot, and the campaign is supported with print, out-of-home and outdoor elements that also break today.

The move is an abrupt change of tone for Microsoft after just two iterations of the Seinfeld-Gates spots -- Crispin's first work for the marketer -- which saw the duo chatting in a discount shoe store and trying to blend in with an average American family.

But the Redmond, Wash.-based marketer insists the spots weren't pulled because they prompted a lot of head-scratching and heavy criticism in the blogosphere.

"This has always been the plan from the beginning," said David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft. "There is a storytelling arc between [the two iterations], even if the tone and style are different," around the idea that "Windows has connected 1 billion people."

Not taking any more mockery
At the same time, in the newest ad Microsoft attempts to identify the "real PC user," said Mr. Webster, rather than the "caricature" painted by Apple's "Mac vs. PC" campaign, from Omnicom Group's TBWA Media Arts Lab, which portrays PC as a perennial loser to the hipper Mac.
Windows ad
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The tagline for the new Windows ads is 'Life Without Walls.'


"It was important to do on behalf of our users, who really aren't like that guy," Mr. Webster said. (About that guy: His name is Sean Siler, and he is a Microsoft employee, one of a number who were plucked to appear in the ads following a casting call. Their e-mail addresses run as part of the spot.)

Whether the campaign transition was planned or not, Microsoft's advertising seems to be all over the place of late.

Besides the short-lived Seinfeld-Gates ads, it recently launched its bait-and-switch spot dubbed the "Mojave Experiment," an attempt to correct negative perceptions about the Vista operating system. Those ads, which aren't part of Crispin's $300 million campaign, will continue running, Microsoft's Mr. Webster said.
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