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October 6, 2008
Politics ‘R Us

I like Jerry Seinfeld. I even kind of like Bill Gates.

And I like them together.

I’m still happily confused about the two Jerry and Bill spots we’ve seen so far. The world’s richest man and world’s funniest man gang up to hem and haw, possibly, coyly, around the vague notions of an operating system? I get the appeal of that pitch/non-pitch. It’s as if Bob and Ray were to team up with the CEO of GM in 1955. We’ve definitely seen worse corporate advertising.

So I feel a bit sad this new Windows campaign is launching in such a highly charged year of politics. Our collective vision, our communal ear, is, unfortunately, tuned sharply towards the attack.

The news so far:

The first two Jerry and Bill spots have been pulled from the air.

A third spot is in the can, but might never air.

A new non-Jerry and Bill spot called “I’m a PC,” which takes direct aim at Apple’s long-running “Mac vs PC” campaign, appears to have been created in part with Apple and Adobe software.

Feels more like “McCain vs Obama” to me.

And maybe that’s what we’re in for, from this point on. Maybe the future of advertising will be a highly charged, minute-by-minute, blog post-by-blog post bombardment.

Here’s why:

1. We’re empowered. (“We,” meaning us, meaning everyone—especially those with high speed Internet connections, decent tech skills and curiosity.) In other words, the audience can and will craft your PR story for you. And in some worst cases, that Swift Boating can deflate the positive hype your brand hoped to create or simply cost your company time and money. It’s Goliath (Bill) vs. David (some dude named "LuisDS"). Even if the whole “Microsoft used Apple and Adobe products to make their ‘I’m a PC’ ads!” kerfuffle turns out to be just a kerfuffle, I suspect the billable hours clocked by MS employees and their agencies to deal with the situation will be unfortunately significant.

What to do?

2. Inter-act. I just got back from giving a presentation to the Birmingham Ad Fed on the future of advertising. During the speech, I said there are three core elements to advertising in the future—aside from big ideas. The first element is “inter-action,” meaning, advertising from now on must actively involve the audience. I think it’s essential that brands tell their audiences: “Your role and/or participation in our efforts is necessary (even required)…and we’re going to provide mechanisms and venues to enable your participation.”

One of the challenges Microsoft and CP+B face with something so huge as re-launching or re-branding Windows is how to involve the audience. Microsoft, like many other companies, is historically conservative. The notion of involving consumers early in the process is quite difficult. But I think it must be done, now and in the future.

And Microsoft is playing ball here. A friend and CP+B insider informed me the “I’m a PC” within the Life Without Walls campaign has garnered over 8,000 submissions in its first few days. You provide your photo or video (“I’m a PC and I…”) and it becomes part of the ongoing tapestry. Your picture might even end up as part of an online ad, which you get a link to. 

But imagine if Microsoft and CP+B had inter-acted with the audience in the creation of the Jerry and Bill spots. Perhaps there would have been much less negative reaction. Of course, this approach would mean there would be less secrecy, less control, and less of the old ways of doing things—tough pills to swallow.

Yet, check out Ashton Kutcher. He just launched Blah Girls, a new celebrity commentary website/content program, by himself, at TechCrunch50. Talk about inter-action. (He even did his own Qik videos of his experiences at TechCrunch. Jerry? Bill?)

3. Always-be-in-beta. This might not be an approach for everyone, and I’m certainly not the first to describe or advocate it. My premise with being always-in-beta is: “Less polishing. More releasing. / Less big. More small. / Less slow. More fast. / Less agency. More audience. / Less you. More them.”

While obviously highly moderated, the “I’m a PC” program enabling Microsoft’s audience to speak roughly, quickly, and above all, personally, is a step in the right direction. It’ll be interesting to see how that effort develops, and if “being a PC” translates into increased affection for and continued adoption of Windows.

The old rules, be they in marketing or politics, have changed. Maybe the upside to all this Jerry and Bill and Barack and John chatter is in the chatter itself. (Highly, Seinfeldesquian, I know.) Now, at least, other marketers and brands have better insight into the challenges and more importantly, the opportunities they might face.

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As a writer, creative director and drummer, Tim Brunelle started in advertising in 1993 after receiving a B.A. in Jazz from the University of Cincinnati. Since then, he's worked with TBWA/Chiat Day, Heater/Easdon, McKinney & Silver, Arnold Worldwide, OgilvyOne, Mullen and Carmichael Lynch. Tim now works for his own entity, Hello Viking.

Tim has provided strategic and creative leadership to A.G. Edwards, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Forman, Goodyear, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Volkswagen.

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