Seinfeld Won’t Travel. Pity, That.

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Coffee shakes are not ice-cream drinks

1134 hrs.

In all of the attention given to Microsoft’s selection of an aging comedian to be its voice to a wider computer and software market whose tastes skew quite young, very little attention is given to a larger question:

Even if Jerry Seinfeld retains relevance and power within the United States, how is this $300 million campaign going to help the company outside of the English-speaking world, in places like China, Brazil, India, and Russia that will decide the future of the company? As Wilson Ng at SunStar Cebu points out, there are more Windows users in the world than there are English speakers.

The Global Windows Appeal

Jerry is a nice guy, after all, but he is not exactly a global icon. Microsoft needs help around the world with the challenges it faces, and that goes beyond dealing with Apple. Granting for the sake of argument that Microsoft will succeed to an extent with its Seinfeld effort in the U.S., the company needs a global consumer campaign designed to win back (or just “win”) the support of consumers around the world. And the company cannot wait for the next version of either Windows or the XBoX to do it.

Naturally, the focus of the campaign will be different, because of the severity of threats Microsoft faces worldwide, and especially here in China:

  • Piracy, or the sale and use of unlicensed or under-licensed copies of Windows. (By under-licensed, I mean the retail re-sale of software meant to be sold only with a new computer, so-called OEM packages);
  • Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) (i.e., Linux, Firefox, etc.), and
  • Localized policy efforts fighting the Microsoft monopoly and what is perceived as monopolistic-rent type costs for necessary upgrades.

In China, Microsoft has focused most of its efforts to date on working with its OEM partners (i.e, computer manufacturers) to get them to purchase genuine OEM packages to install on the computers they sell, and on large organizations to end workplace piracy in massive enterprises and government organizations. They’ve made appreciable progress there, a testament (in my opinion) to the locally-savvy efforts orchestrated by Microsoft China’s Genuine Software czar David Ben Kay and a highly supportive Tim Chen – both of whom have now left Microsoft to pursue other passions.

The Coming Global Consumer Campaign

The efforts David and Tim started will continue, but the gaping hole in Microsoft’s efforts remains with the consumer. But I suspect this is about to end, and the corporate support for the Seinfeld campaign is going to give Microsoft’s marketers around the world the chance to tackle a long-overdue consumer campaign. I’d bet we see something not long after the New Year, possibly even in time for Chinese New Year holiday season.

The cost will not be insignificant. A back-of-the-paper-napkin guesstimate would put the cost of a global Microsoft feel-good campaign at between three and five times the planned spend on the Seinfeld campaign, with probably 20% of that going to greater China. Microsoft has the cash, so the cost really is not the problem.

The problem is connection. If Microsoft turns the Seinfeld campaign into a win, it will be because the company’s decision-makers – the guys with their finger on the budget button – have a superior grasp of consumer marketing and retain something of a psychic connection to the people who use Windows in the U.S. and the other anglophone markets where Jerry might have an impact.

Whether Microsoft has or can build that psychic connection in China and markets around the world, and whether the executives in each of Microsoft’s respective “subs” possess strong consumer marketing skills will determine whether such a campaign has a shot at success.

The Seinfeld campaign is a signal. Whatever needs to happen at Microsoft to get the software development machine back on track will only be the beginning of what they need to accomplish. The other part is turning Microsoft into a genuine consumer marketing organization.

Because the global standard in the technology and innovative industries now lies at the nexus of superior products and powerful communications.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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