Seinfeld Peddles Vista From Milan to Minsk

What’s the deal with those new Windows ads?

In what looks to be another shot at saving Vista’s troubled reputation, Microsoft has brought comedian Jerry Seinfeld aboard as a spokesperson for the struggling software. Seinfeld will star in a series of ads launching early next month, The Wall Street Journal reports. He’s rumored to be getting US$10 million for his troubles.

Research shows only about 39 percent of new computers shipping with Vista last year, compared to 67 percent with XP in 2002, its first year. So, can Seinfeld save the ship from sinking?

Image Issues

Vista has suffered image issues almost since its release. The negative word-of-mouth, no doubt propagated by our Internet-connected world, has only been compounded by the ongoing Apple ad campaign depicting Windows as an old-fashioned nerd compared to Mac’s younger and hipper representation. And the fact that so many computer users simply aren’t adopting Vista doesn’t help, of course.

“Two or three years ago, I think the assumption was many if not most people would be upgrading to new generations of laptops and desktop systems much more quickly than they have been,” Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told the E-Commerce Times. “[But] the last generation of chips was very, very powerful — I think powerful enough for the vast majority of the applications most people use,” he noted.

That high resource requirement, along with complaints surrounding Vista’s updated interface, may be to blame for the slow sales. The question, then, is what it’ll take to turn around the performance of an operating system that’s all about performance.

Celebrity Uncertainty

The tricky thing with ad campaigns is that they’re simply unpredictable: A seemingly perfect plan can sometimes accomplish nothing, and a random, low-budget idea can end up going viral. Add celebrities into the equation, and you gain even more uncertainty.

“This is always a gamble,” Irvin Rein, professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, told the E-Commerce Times. “The history of these sorts of things in terms of how they’ll pay off has always been speculative, and it’s been cyclical,” he said.

Seinfeld was said to be Microsoft’s top choice for the campaign, though Will Ferrell and Chris Rock have also come up as potential considerations. While Ferrell and Rock may have strong star power, the public persona that made Seinfeld a phenomenon in the first place could make him the smartest choice.

“One of the characteristics about Seinfeld that gives him credibility in this matter is that he’s always been somewhat of a cynic,” Rein pointed out. “He’s always been the doubter — always questioning the ethics of American society and business. … We do recognize that he’s being paid for this, but at least he’s got that credibility,” he noted.

Product Appeal

Even with what may be a perfect pitchman, Microsoft still has a fair share of work to do for the ads to succeed. The company needs to make sure the product has appeal, Rein pointed out, or all the ads in the world won’t make any impact.

“Jerry Seinfeld is not going to rescue a product that has true problems. If it’s not a competitive product, if it continues to dissatisfy the public, Jerry Seinfeld’s not going to do any good for it,” Rein explained.

“But if the product starts to get favorable word-of-mouth, there’s a synergy. I would assume Microsoft is looking for synergy here. They obviously feel it’s a good product — otherwise they wouldn’t be investing this kind of effort in it,” he added.

In the end, then, it seems Microsoft’s strategy might just be spot-on. The question is whether the actual software can hold up its end of the deal and develop a draw for users. If anyone can perform that kind of feat of strength, though, Jerry Seinfeld certainly seems to be the man for the job.

“Word-of-mouth has been an issue [for Vista]. What’s interesting about Seinfeld — he’s a word-of-mouth guy. There’s sort of an everyday banter about him. I think he was a perfect choice,” Rein concluded.

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