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It's easy to respect microsoft corp. for its remarkable business prowess. It's harder to like the company. If Microsoft is to win its antitrust fight in the court of public opinion, it must show Americans why it's worth liking -- and prove it's worth trusting. It has a good story, and advertising can tell it.

Microsoft is masterful at developing and selling software, but it does an abysmal job of selling itself. As Chairman Bill Gates might say, it's "bizarre" Microsoft is being made out to be as evil as the embattled tobacco industry.

Computer industry advertising insiders long have criticized Microsoft's "right-brain" ads -- from Wieden & Kennedy and Anderson & Lembke -- as lacking the warmth, emotion, humor and appeal of the advertising created for rivals such as IBM Corp.

It was only when Microsoft was well into its troubles with the government, just a month before the Justice Department and a group of state attorneys general filed their antitrust case last week, that Microsoft finally ran an ad -- from New York-based advocacy specialists Bozell Sawyer Miller -- making the "left-brain" case for Microsoft's role in innovation.

Microsoft's record in technical innovation is debatable. The company came to dominate markets by buying (MS-DOS), borrowing (Windows) and simply staying in the game until it wins (Microsoft Office and -- stay tuned -- Internet Explorer). That said, what Bill Gates has shown is that innovation can involve more than inventing; Henry Ford, after all, didn't invent the car, but he innovated by making it available to the masses. There's good fodder to mine in telling the story, through advertising, of how Microsoft succeeded by giving customers what they want.

Of course, Microsoft can't win its antitrust battle in the courtroom through advertising. But telling its story more effectively to the public can help Microsoft win the marketplace battle -- the one for the allegiance of consumers confused about whether what's good for Microsoft is also good for the country.

Yada yada ads

Nbc's much-hyped "Seinfeld" finale was nowhere near the Big Event advertising spectacle it was played up to be. That's disappointing to a good number of advertisers, especially given the pricetag of upwards of $1.7 million for a 30-second spot. The expectation was that interest in the last "Seinfeld" episode would lend far greater impact to the advertising that accompanied it. But whose fault is it that less happened, ad-wise?

The recent history of Super Bowl advertising -- dated from event-making "1984," of course -- should have made it clear to advertisers that it is specially prepared commercials or campaign kickoffs that have a chance at "event" immortality. But very routine, or actually poor, commercials just multiply greatly the number of people who notice that fact.

Our Bob Garfield in his Ad Review of "Seinfeld" finale commercials gave out a couple of 3-star ratings for spots, mostly for ads that would have received the rating no matter what the TV show on which they aired. He complimented a "straightforward" spot for the Buick Century that made no attempt to be "witty or entertaining" and did "do some selling." But $1.7 million worth?

What did the "Seinfeld" finale advertisers really get that they couldn't have gotten at a much better price? We won't write out the one-word answer.

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