Microsoft is known for many things—such as owning Slate—but its advertising really isn't one of them. So I was intrigued to get e-mail from somebody the other day insisting that I had to check out a commercial for Microsoft's Office XP running in Switzerland. The e-mailer provided this link, but while it still contains product information, the ad itself seems mysteriously to have disappeared since I watched it last week. In the meantime, however, it has also popped up on the AdCritic.com site, where it currently tops the most-viewed-ads chart. You can see it here, though apparently AdCritic has gotten popular enough that download times are now incredibly long, even with a high-speed connection.
The ad: A hot young couple is shown making out in the privacy of their apartment. The young lady pulls off her top. The young man reaches around to unhook her brassiere. He peeks over her shoulder at the complicated device. We see the woman's face, and she looks mildly puzzled, maybe concerned. The guy keeps struggling, a look of frustration pinching his face. Suddenly, a window pops up on the screen—a Windows window. The guy sort of presses on his lady friend's back to make a selection, and another window pops up: "Passwort eingeben," it says. Password-protected. Apparently he will not be able to penetrate this firewall. (Look but no feel, I guess.) He turns away with a "curses, foiled again" expression, and she looks smugly amused. A narrator says, in English, "The unexpected experience. New Office XP, by Microsoft."
Unexpected, yes … Microsoft Office XP is "The world's leading business productivity suite," according to a company site. So it's probably not the product you think is going to be pushed as this domestic scene unfolds, and I guess that's the point. This is another variation on the endless series of ads out these days that operate on the element of surprise—a jarring but hopefully amusing punch line is delivered, and, the viewer's attention having been engaged, a product name is mentioned. As these ads go, this one is so-so. It's amusing enough, and the thing being sold does actually play a role in the narrative. On the other hand that role is … a little strange.
… Experience, no. It's strange for two reasons. The first is the item for sale ends up being not a means of satisfaction, but of preventing it. It's sort of hard to read what's going to happen next—maybe she'll tell him the password, since she seemed to be having a good time up to that point—but in fact the ad ends on a note of frustration. More curious, though, is the decision to evoke the presence of Microsoft in the boudoir: Imagine a world in which you can't even have sex without mastering Windows. Now that's an operating system!
Anyway, it's hard to guess whether some variation on this ad might play over here. It's true that Microsoft might benefit from a more playful image. But I have a feeling there might be some viewers who would find this particular scenario a bit of a turnoff.