Wednesday, 28 October 2009

File under 'no shit Sherlock'

Somebody, somewhere is scratching their head thinking "Well, who saw that coming?" And the rest of the world is making its best 'mental' face in response. This week, Microsoft made the embarrassing admission that it has had second thoughts about sponsoring the forthcoming special edition of Family Guy, "Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show".

The omnipotent software giant had originally paid for the exclusive rights to the half-hour programme of sketches and shorts, performed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein, who plays Peter Griffin's long-suffering wife Lois. The plan was for the show to run without any ads, instead being funded by Microsoft which hoped to see its new operating system Windows 7 'seamlessly' woven into the show's content.

Although the show will still be broadcast on the 8th November, Bill Gates' baby will not be involved. A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft executives attended a recording of the show and were horrified to discover that the show's characteristic shock humour has not been watered down.

Maybe it's just too hard to work references to Windows 7 into jokes about incest, tampons and the Holocaust. Either way, the humour went down about as well as Lady GaGa being asked to pick up a new outfit in Primark.

This Monday, Microsoft stated that "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."

Thankfully, Family Guy has weathered tougher storms than this, having faced cancellation more times than Kerry Katona's checkbook. It's now something of a comedy institution, and has even spawned its own spin-off. But anyone who has ever watched the show would know that its association with Windows made as much sense as Baby Gap sponsoring a Gary Glitter comeback tour.

So the big question is, why did no-one at Microsoft recognise the disparity sooner?

The point of sponsorship is to find a platform that sits comfortably with your brand and your consumers. But if it's going to work, you have to prove that you're a fan too. It's no good simply picking a property that shows up in the media research as being popular with your target audience.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Microsoft still has some way to go before it's able to understand exactly how its users enjoy themselves. After all, they did feel the need to create an instructional video telling people how to throw a Windows 7 party.

Writing about Microsoft's staggeringly inept 'viral' film, Barbara Lippert noted, “They think...that people will want to host parties in their houses because it’s so great. But the script is so fake, with all the sales messages in there… if this is what they think is hip, it’s just so sad — and poignant.”

But maybe Microsoft isn't as naive as the critics are willing to assume. Perhaps they've realised that everyone loves an underdog. Could it be that all of these marketing misfires are just a really smart way of winning back the sympathy of a cynical generation, tired of Apple always getting it right? Having watched this video several times now, I'm willing to believe that anything is possible...

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