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Microsoft's Ad Execs Fail Again


The "Family Guy" debacle is just the latest in a string of bad marketing ploys.

In April 2006, Stephen Colbert was invited to speak at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, DC before former President Bush and elite members of his cabinet. The outgoing head of the organization, Mark Smith, selected Colbert presumably because he overheard that the Comedy Central personality presented a comedic take of world events through a right-wing lens. What resulted was a hilariously ironic diatribe against the Bush administration and their policies -- one that circulated the web ad infinitum. Red-faced and likely chastised for the choice, Smith admitted he hadn't seen much of Colbert's work.

(MSFT) recent blunder is reminiscent of Smith's hasty pre-show ignorance.

Intent on promoting the release of its new operating system Windows 7, Microsoft struck a deal with the folks from Fox's (NWSA) Family Guy for a unique, ad-integrated variety special. The Almost Live Comedy Show was to be a mixture of live and animated segments featuring Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and performer Alex Borstein. Microsoft's sponsorship for the program would be displayed via live Windows 7 promotions and pitches in lieu of typical commercial breaks.

But once company executives witnessed a performance of the program -- replete with jokes about incest and the Holocaust -- Microsoft balked and withdrew its sponsorship. Speaking with Variety, a company spokesperson said:

"We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show based on the audience composition and creative humor of Family Guy, but after reviewing an early version of the variety show, it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand."

In the voice of Peter Griffin: "What the hell were they expecting?"

Much like footage of The Colbert Report, clips of Family Guy are readily available in almost every conceivable media format. Had Microsoft's top brass really been sheltered from anyone who has seen Family Guy and could easily provide a brief description before they hitched their wagon to an extraordinarily vulgar horse?

This decision was ostensibly conceived by Microsoft ad executives, and while they may have already been familiar with the program, they should have presented the bottom-liners with a few clips so they'd be aware of what they were getting the company into. In the end, it just makes the company appear completely out of touch.

But this is hardly an isolated incident of Microsoft's woefully inept marketing tactics.

Last year, the Redmond company commissioned Jerry Seinfeld to appear in a series of ads to weather the Vista storm with some good-natured humor (see Seinfeld Master of Microsoft's Domain). The $10 million deal fell through once the first ad premiered -- featuring Bill Gates and Seinfeld chit-chatting about nearly everything but computers. The spot drew overwhelming bewilderment from the public and was quickly put to death.

Next came the "I'm a PC" campaign which fared a little better than the Seinfeld debacle -- that is, until it was revealed the celebrities appearing in the ads have championed Apple (AAPL) products in the past. Oh, and several campaign images appearing on Microsoft's official website? Made on a Mac. And for every little Asian pixie making fishy faces at the screen, there was a budding serial killer creating grim slideshows of slaughtered animals.

But between blaming Vista detractors for poor performance or casting pregnant yoga participants to launch into a shrilly rendition of Oklahoma! to advertise its Bing search engine, Microsoft's past ad campaigns have nothing on the surreal Windows 7 Party campaign. Complete with bizarre staging, Stepford Wife acting, and continuity mistakes, the six-minute clip represents just how out of touch Microsoft's marketing department truly is.

Why can't Microsoft get it together? Is it really that difficult to produce a unique and memorable ad?

Apple's popular "Get a Mac" campaign has been getting a little long in the tooth in the past few months -- leaving a "window" open for Microsoft to step in with a creative spot. And for all the positive press Windows 7 is getting, why hasn't there been a huge campaign to promote that fact? Is the Windows 7 Party really all there is?

It's time Microsoft took a long look at its marketing department and question why the best advertising it's been getting since Vista has been from tech blogs and word of mouth.

Because without a positive image, those things won't last.
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