Video: New Microsoft commercial makes Giampaolo happy for $1,500

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I’m sensing a trend here. Microsoft is working with a formula for its new advertising campaign, dubbed Laptop Hunter. The gist: A good-looking yet accessible actor goes into a mall. They look around, decide Macs are too expensive/cool/exciting for their down-to-earth lifestyles, and then buy an HP, in this case an HP with bad battery life. While I’m totally down with attractive people being happy, I wonder what, exactly, Microsoft is selling here? Design? Laptop quality? Even HP? It’s definitely not selling anything it makes.

First we saw the Seinfeld commercials. That hot mess took the PC totally out of the picture. It made Microsoft all about Bill Gates (much as Apple is about Steve Jobs) but because no one would want to drink beers with Bill they added Jerry for charm. Again, nothing about Windows.

Then they made people the PC. “I’m a PC” became the battle cry of a beleaguered majority of computer users who use Windows – well, a PC, really – because it happens to be in front of them. You could have put Linux on the box and they could have also said that they were PCs. No mention of Windows.

Finally, they’ve stripped the product out of the equation entirely. Lauren and Giampaolo (“a recent college grad and engineer,” which suggests a real person this time) hit the shops for a bit of hardware shopping. The laptops they bought – both from HP – could have been running BeOS for all they cared. They were shopping based on price. As Harry McCracken points out, again: this isn’t about Windows.

Maybe that’s the goal. With processing hitting the cloud, most of the apps that Windows users would fire up from the Start menu are now in their Bookmarks bar. Mail? On-line. Photo sharing? On-line. Gaming? On the XBox. The average Windows user doesn’t need to think about Windows – and should ignore Vista entirely – and maybe later Windows 7 will straighten things up. As Harry writes:

I keep coming back to variations on this metaphor, but it’s kind of as if Chevy ran ads showing economy-minded car shoppers choosing a Cobalt or Malibu over an Audi Q5 or A6. The folks in the ads would be making the right decisions for them. But you gotta wonder how many actual people in the real world there are whose buying decisions would be affected by the comparison.

Price is obviously important. We’re in a recession. As Giampaolo says, he doesn’t want to pay for the brand, he wants to pay for the computer. But are we saying that HP isn’t a brand? That Microsoft isn’t a brand? That Giampaolo isn’t getting paid by Microsoft to pick a Windows machine? What, if anything, is MS trying to say here?

Or perhaps we’re watching the rise of post-modern advertising, in which the point is that there is no point. Perhaps this is about reinforcement, especially considering most people bypass the Apple aisle anyway. Or maybe we’re watching Microsoft looking into itself, its mind scoured by madness, giving away thousands of its hard-earned dollars to handsome shills. We will never know, sadly. We’ll never know.

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