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Ads Mimic Editorial But Use Red Highlighter to Make Their Point

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NEW YORK ( -- Loyal readers of Conde Nast Portfolio might have been inclined to call subscription services or demand refunds from their newsstands after turning toward the middle of their current issues. But while red highlighter marking up what looks like editorial may suggest otherwise, the issues have not been vandalized. The seemingly defaced content is part of a new campaign from Microsoft for its People Ready enterprise software, and appears in the February issue of Portfolio, as well as the current issue of The Economist and in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.

Microsoft: Everybody's Business

The print ads take a whack at the typical CEO success profile, redacting bloated axioms and leaving only a handful of words meant to emulate this "new" mode of business.

Breaking away from the recent "I'm a PC" series -- Microsoft's multilayered attempt to counter Apple's assault on its image -- the People Ready campaign focuses its message on the business set. Working under the theme "Because it's everybody's business," the campaign eschews the so-called old guard of business and its desensitized mantra, "It's not personal," instead embracing the individual and personal nature of businesses (though it seems keeping it personal is hard to do with falling profits, even for Microsoft. The company -- citing an 11% drop in its second-quarter net income vs. the same period last year -- announced plans this morning to lay off 5,000 of its work force in the next 18 months, including 1,400 people today).

According to a statement by Microsoft's advertising general manager, Gayle Troberman, the tagline "highlights the fact that everyone in an organization is responsible for a company's success, and the right solutions in the hands of the right people help companies win."

A new tack
While Microsoft initially introduced advertising for the People Ready product in 2006, the new work from JWT, New York, launched last week adopts a new tack, and its timing is something the shop says is not wholly coincidental.

"We wanted to be forceful about it," said Walt Connelly, JWT's executive creative director. "The idea that business isn't personal is ridiculous. Business is very, very personal. We wanted to say the old way is gone."

To achieve that sentiment, the print ads take a whack at the typical CEO success profile, redacting bloated axioms and narrow thinking and leaving only a handful of words meant to emulate this "new" mode of business. The spared words pieced together in the Wall Street Journal version, for example, declare, "It's everybody's business to be on the same page."

Mr. Connelly said JWT worked closely with each magazine in which the ads would appear -- including Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Business Week and Fortune -- taking pains to emulate particular styles and fonts to make their point as seamless as possible.

"It was labor-intensive," said Tim Galles, creative director at JWT. "We went through a lot of red markers."

What that translated to, at least for Portfolio's publisher, William Li, "was one of the most arresting pieces of print content" he said he's seen in a long time.

Animated TV spots
Aside from the series of print ads, JWT created a pair of animated TV spots featuring the caricaturized, real-life voices of Coca-Cola North America Chief Marketing Officer Katie Bayne and Quicksilver CEO Bob McKnight espousing the merits of enterprise software in their own operations.

The TV ads tap into a distinct kind of stop-motion artistry employed most famously in director Jim Raskin's recent short film "I Met the Walrus," something Mr. Galles likens to "a stream of consciousness."

"We tried to open up a real conversation, a humanity-business link," he said.

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