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"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into ever square inch of Word?"

"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into every square inch of Word?"

My business partner, Gerry Giambattista, and I both want to be named hanging judges if there is ever an international war crimes tribunal assembled to consider the cumulative havoc that Microsoft has unleashed on the world since its inception. We have a long list of questions for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, which we will present as intrusive yellow pop-up panels, not unlike those that used to populate a Word document whenever the masters in Redmond, WA wanted to anticipate which word you were attempting to type, so they could replace it with another. Forget all the people Microsoft employs in all its divisions. Forget all the good that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done around the globe. Forget the excellent X-Box gaming platform. This is personal.

Admittedly, we are long-time Apple products users, so we should probably recuse ourselves. However, we have both harbored long-time grudges against the software industry, Microsoft specifically, and would like a chance to settle the score in a Hague-like setting.

We know of no other industry that is allowed to operate so capriciously, integrating itself into the daily operations of essentially every business on the planet, then forcing users to routinely jump through crazy hoop after crazy hoop, because of software incompatibility (often between different versions of the same product), security issues, constant debilitating updates and key feature changes with little logic behind them, all with few other options for workarounds.

My teeth are set grinding every time I hear a commercial on my car radio for the Business Software Alliance targeting employers who run unlicensed copies of software or who pirate programs. How about if the software industry starts policing its own myriad of customer and tech service issues before spending millions to get employees to rat out employers for possible violations. Normally, I appreciate the bravery of whistle blowers — here I envision an entire accusatory industry dressed as Captain Hook. Pot, kettle, black.

This is also an industry that devours its own. Competitors are routinely driven out of business or marginalized, not because they are lackluster, but because they make a better product that is harming the product that the bigger company makes (usually Microsoft). Case in point is Word Perfect, which many eons ago was the preferred word processing software for virtually everyone operating a business. Then, along came Word, which Microsoft bundled as an enticement with Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage or Outlook as an Office suite. It took many years for Word to resist its urge to interrupt users every other keystroke with “innovative” efficiency-enhancing features. We all had to endure years of that nonsense. Today, Word Perfect is still available from Corel, but it appears to be a niche product for legal professionals.

Anyone remember Netscape Navigator? It was the preferred web browser of many users during the 1990s until Microsoft did everything possible to torpedo it with Internet Explorer.

That brings me to a moment of great personal satisfaction that will have to suffice until that international tribunal is assembled. Advertising Age was good enough to spotlight a parody last week of Microsoft’s self-congratulatory Internet Explorer TV spot. In this case, the parody does a better job of delivering truth.



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Stephen King could have been our greatest copywriter

Stephen King could have been our greatest copywriter

I usually don’t read Entertainment Weekly for advertising news, but the June 4/11 2010 issue (100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years) contained an absolute gem about our industry. In his guest column (The Pop of King), Stephen King reveals that he almost followed another path instead of becoming the most successful horror writer of all time. His high school guidance counselor told him that results on an aptitude test revealed him to be well qualified for a career on Madison Avenue. Not a surprise given F. Scott Fitzgerald, Elmore Leonard, James Patterson, and many others got a great creative foundation as copywriters, then went on to become accomplished novelists. I would have loved to see Stephen King’s take on ad classics. A demonic Pillsbury Dough Boy. Some bloody good new uses for Heinz Ketchup. Kathy Bates comes to the aid of the “I’ve Fallen But I Can’t Get Up” lady.
But I digress. Stephen King’s column was dedicated to “The Most Obnoxious TV Commercial. Ever.” He offers some historical examples before sending readers to the Huffington Post to cast a vote for favorite of “The 17 Most Annoying Commercials Of All Time.”

HuffingtonPost — Most Annoying Commercials of All Time

HuffingtonPost — Most Annoying Commercials of All Time

There is definitely plenty to annoy here, although this grab-bag doesn’t do justice to the many stupefiers and wince-inducers from decades of badvertising. The Meow-Mix cat food jingle is here. Clap-on, Clap-off, The Clapper. Plus Toyota’s “Saved By Zero” sales event, which wasn’t bad until they bought a continuous loop media buy that ensured by the time people had seen the spot for the 4,057th time, their heads would explode like in Scanners (I’m sure on Stephen King’s all time list of cult classic horror movies).

As for Stephen’s hands-down choice, it’s ShoeDini, which combines the extended broadcast time of an infomercial with the voiceover of an over-caffeinated Gilbert Gottfried:

My own choice for most annoying commercial? It’s a whole mini campaign arc that annoys me less for the productions than for the business decisions behind them. It’s Microsoft’s lead-in to the Windows 7 launch and their response to the Apple ads (PC and Mac) in which all Windows PCs take a licking, then another licking, then yet another licking, then a full-blown piñata bashing, then, well you get the picture.

Any agency would kill for the budget that teams Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld in their own reality show sitcom to connect with real people. But not many agencies would deliver this loopy approach as a reason to buy a Windows PC. These spots succeed in humanizing Bill and putting Jerry in some forced comedy moments, while failing in their mission impossible — distracting PC buyers from Apple’s growing technological domination, as evidenced by last week’s news that they’ve overtaken Microsoft as the world’s biggest tech company.

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