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Does Microsoft Have the Stupidest Ads on the Planet?

You just know that Microsoft is struggling mightily to remain relevant in the 21st century, while making the lion’s share of its income from products and services that were first created in the last century. However, it’s also clear their executives have no taste when it comes to choosing the proper marketing methods to sell products to consumers.

Now producing stupid or just plain obnoxious TV spots isn’t too hard. That explains why the Fast Forward buttons on TiVOs and other DVRs are being regularly worn to the bone, and TV networks and local stations are struggling to stop ad income from sagging big time.

So Job One for Microsoft would be to actually deliver a message that stops you in your tracks when you are ready to push that button, or go to the fridge for some liquid refreshment as you wait for the show to resume. Apple has managed to do that with the Mac Versus PC campaign. GEICO, an insurance company, has captured plenty of attention with its “Gecko” lizard puppet, and those modern-day cavemen. In fact the latter marketing scheme proved so popular it actually inspired a short-lived comedy show, until they woke up and realized that the concept only succeeded within the 30 second constraints of a TV ad.

Into this clutter comes some of the most absurd TV spots on record. First, Microsoft teams ex-CEO Bill Gates with 1990’s sitcom veteran Jerry Seinfeld to produce two commercials about nothing. Well, wasn’t that the concept of Seinfeld’s show? In any case, when that campaign fizzled, Microsoft began its Laptop Hunters promotion, which garnered so much attention from Mac users over its misleading claims that Apple actually demanded that Microsoft fix the content. In retrospect, it was never certain whether Microsoft was actually selling gear from its hardware partners, or just pushing Windows.

With the arrival of Windows 7, Microsoft wants to create the illusion that it is not only something truly innovative, but that regular customers actually inspired some of the most significant features. So we have this nerdy character who rushes around his home with a laptop perched clumsily on one hand as he struggles to move two document windows to the corners of the screen. Other than demonstrating how not to handle a note-book computer, I wonder how many times the actor actually dropped the thing before making it through the scene successfully.

Worse, the slow, halting movement on the tiny display doesn’t reassure you about the graphic capabilities of Windows 7. But worse, the character in this spot goes on to claim that HE was the inventor of this particular feature. Well, I hope he doesn’t quit his day job, assuming he has a day job beyond appearing in poorly produced TV spots.

Another Windows 7 ad extolls the ability to use Wi-Fi. So we have yet another ignorant dude showing us his one-handed note-book move as he delights in explaining how he can print and share music wirelessly in his home. Again, he feels that this is a feature that he inspired Microsoft to place in Windows 7 and thus he, too, invented it.

I presume most of the people who spent the time to watch this misguided production realize that Wi-Fi is an international standard that was not only not invented by Microsoft, but has been available for years on both Macs and PCs. Maybe Windows 7 handles wireless networking a tad more efficiently than Vista, but how does Microsoft expect anyone to believe that it’s something new and different?

Why indeed!

At the same time, Microsoft continues to try to persuade users of Windows XP and older versions of their office suites to upgrade with fire sale prices; that is if you regard 50% discounts to small and medium-sized businesses as genuine discount pricing. Of course, Microsoft wants them all to forget the draconian upgrade process when moving from XP to Windows 7, which requires a clean install. That means backing up your hard drive, installing the new OS and then restoring your files.

Maybe Microsoft should take the money spent on foolish ad campaigns and invest it in developing a workable upgrade method. Up till now, Microsoft’s biggest obstacle to expanding use of its newest operating systems has been the insistence of tens of millions of users to stick with XP. Certainly many of these customers will probably adopt Windows 7 when they buy new PCs, but Microsoft earns much higher profits selling upgrade kits to end users as compared to OEM partners.

This doesn’t mean that Windows 7 is a bad operating system. So far the early reviews are extremely positive. Microsoft has apparently done some solid work to clean up some of the worst problems of Vista as well as adding some fancy new eye candy in the process. Stability is improved, and performance is at least incrementally enhanced. These are very positive developments, and worth crowing about.

But Microsoft lost its marketing mojo long ago, and the best they can manage these days is more and more hot air.