Dear Microsoft, Stop Trying To Be Funny.


Twitter is down today. (OMG WTF!) So now it’s up to you to amuse me. Let’s play a game. Ready? I’m gonna say a word and you’re going to think of a few adjectives to describe that word.

The word is Microsoft. I’ll give you a second.

So what did you think of? Blue screens? Redmond? Bill Gates? Balmer? Office products? I bet you didn’t think of this:

Because that’s not who Microsoft is.

The horrifically AWESOME video above was the recent winner of Bing’s jingle contest. Meaning that someone from Microsoft actually selected it as the winner. I’m crossing my fingers it was selected to be “amusing” or as a “joke”, but even so, Microsoft – you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re Microsoft, here’s something you need to realize – you’re not funny.
And not only are you not funny, you’re not associated with funny. It doesn’t come naturally to you. And when you attempt to be something you’re not in life – you fail. Every time. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a walk down memory lane.

Remember those horrible Jerry Seinfeld commercials? Or maybe the bizarre Wordsmith commercial with the singing father and daughter? How about the IE 8 commercial where a lady actually VOMITS and her husband SLIPS on it? (Don’t click that link. Really). All examples of Microsoft trying to be quirky and failing.

They’re failing because they’re going against their brand. If you want to be successful and win people over, you have to be you. That’s all you need to do. Stop trying so hard to impress us.

Microsoft is a serious company. And they should stop trying to apologize for that. They offer some good products. They help people. They’re finally getting interesting. Microsoft needs to start focusing on that and being more straightforward about the benefits involved with being associated with the brand. Because that’s how they’re going to find success. By bleeding what they are. That’s how you create a genuine brand that people cling to and respect. We can tell when you’re faking it.

Microsoft’s greatest challenge right now is proving that Bing is a serious search engine. They need to prove to the common man that they can trust them. They need honest commercials that explain, in very simple terms, what you offer. They’re a decision engine. They can fill in the holes Google leaves. They’re different. Awesome. Now they need to establish trust. To prove authority. And to start taking themselves, and their products, a bit more seriously. You’re not going to spark my curiosity about your product through strange dance numbers, impromptu duets and vomit. You’re going to do it by showing me what you offer and making me feel like I’m missing out by not getting to know you. Create commercials that highlight your features. Show me the benefits of Bing.

I think a lot of us are really rooting for Bing. We want Bing to do well and to take back some of Google’s market share. Because for the first time in awhile, Microsoft finally has a product that’s worth something. That search engine is not a joke. It’s actually, at times, pretty impressive. And I think Microsoft is doing a great disservice to itself, and its products, by taking the lowbrow approach to marketing.

If your brand is not associated with humor, don’t try and be funny. It’s comfortable to watch — like when the school geek tries to ask out the prom queen. Microsoft needs to get a handle on its brand identity issues before they tank Bing with their lame marketing like tank its engine. Cheap laughs win you friends in high school. It’s time to evolve.

Your Comments

  • Evan Morris

    That is the exact dance I was doing at the bar last night. Weird?

    Umm…that was terrible and I agree with the post. Not much else to say about this one.

  • Nathan Schubert

    Couldn’t agree more. I personally find Bing to be a useful search engine (decision engine, whatever) and use it daily. I also like that Bing seems to be increasing my adCenter conversions. What I don’t find useful is how they’re trying to copy Mac with their creativity and charisma.

    Everyone in our industry knows the common cliche that you just have to do what your competition is doing, but better. But if you can’t do it better, and Microsoft clearly can’t, then you should try a different route!

  • Kevin Boulas

    Excellent observations – it’s hard to mix “decision engine” and a dance number in anything but a bad joke; not what Microsoft needs to supplant Google.

  • Michael

    The one funny thing Microsoft has going for it is Ballmer, but they refuse to embrace his natural je ne sais quoi.

  • Rob Chant

    When I think of Microsoft, I think of many, many billions of dollars given to fight malaria, amongst other things.

  • graywolf

    I don’t know that it made me want to use BING, but I kinda liked it.

    So what if microsoft has to act a little silly to get your attention I mean something has to snap steve jobs worshiping lemmings from genuflecting at the altar in the apple store and over paying for macbooks right?

    As for being serious I’m sure lots of people would have said the same thing about geico if it started making those silly caveman or lizard commercials today. I can just here “geico you’re an insurance company you’re supposed to be serious and professional not make funny stories”

  • Lisa Barone

    Graywolf: But Geico tried the lizard thing and it WORKED for them. For whatever reason, they struck something and it was successful. So they launched the Cavemen, equally silly and appealing. Another win. I think if the original lizard trip would have failed…they probably wouldn’t have tried it 8 more times.

    Microsoft keeps trying to be funny and they keep failing. At some point you have to realize that maybe that’s not what your audience is looking for. Maybe you’re not *that* guy that can pull it off. And I really don’t think the humor angle is winning them any friends or points. It’s not going to establish credibility, it’s turning people off. The same way turned people off with their commercials before they neutered themselves.

    Microsoft is never going to be the company you joke with. But if they figure out how to show me they’re better than Google, they may be the company I search with.

  • Lisa Barone

    Michael (first one, not Graywolf ;) ): I agree. They have a good character in Balmer. It’d be fun if they embraced that. That would be a good way for them to be naturally funny instead of forced, no one’s laughing funny.

  • graywolf

    Well they tried being serious and it worked … in fact it worked to well and apple went and made them change it

  • Tim Staines

    Have to semi-agree with Michael here.

    Microsoft’s biggest challenge is making people aware that Bing exists and is trying to challenge Google in terms of SERP value. They need to get people to try it any way that they can. Being serious is what happens when they convince a user that they provide results that are as good or better than G, and that’s something that can’t happen until people have been convinced to use Bing.

  • netmeg

    They should use Loren Feldman’s puppet Steve Ballmer video. Now *that* was funny.

    I can’t link to it cause I can’t find it at the moment. But it’s out there.

  • Joe Hall

    I think that Microsoft is going through an identity crisis, the same one that they have been going through for like the last 15 years. Remember when DOS was full of awesomesauce and everyone wanted to be microsoft’s friend. The reason why everyone loved DOS was because it was innovative. By the time Windows came out Mac and Xerox had already developed their own OS with a GUI. Ever sense then they have been playing catch up on developing new tech and innovating. Their unparalleled success came from their invention of the proprietary software license which solidified considerable market share, not from new technology.

    Because of this they struggle to compete with companies and cultures (like open source) that can innovate and deploy at the drop of a hat. So in the end they turn to pathetic gimmicks to sell their products that are just “good enough”.

  • Ben Cook

    I love the jingle but I could do without the guy dancing …

    Microsoft can BE funny, they just have to make sure it actually IS funny. This is one of those things that my mom would pass around as being funny but um… isn’t.

    Personally, I think the cavemen and lizard stuff has jumped the shark for Geico (same with the duck for Aflac) but failed previous attempts certainly don’t mean you can’t get there in the end.

  • Alysson

    Microsoft never rooted themselves in the idea of being the best, the most innovative, the most user-friendly, the most visually appealing, etc. Nor did they care if people liked them or their products. When you bought a PC you were forced into an arranged marriage with Microsoft. The end.

    They never bothered to build a rapport or a relationship with consumers because, aside from Apple, we simply had no other choice. That was their marketing approach: “We don’t care if you WANT it, we’ve built a world where you NEED it – and you can only get it from us. Now, get outta here and quit bothering us…can’t you see we’re counting our money?!?!”

    The problem they face now is how to get the masses to actually choose to use their product when there are other, more familiar and seemingly more trustworthy, options available. Right now Microsoft clearly thinks “funny” is the way to go. They might be right. Then again, maybe not.

    One thing is certain: if funny is going to be their approach, they need to take a step back and figure out what funny is – because that irritating, seemingly endless, repetitive, nonsensical jingle/video is not funny. It may stick in people’s heads FOREVER, but that doesn’t mean it will make people want to use Bing. In fact, it could backfire…monumentally. Lisa summed it up in two words “horrifically AWESOME”. And let’s not forget that the word “awesome” does NOT necessarily mean “good”. :)

  • Rob J

    A good point made by Graywolf on the Geico campaign. But, that campaign actually is funny. You don’t see all of the pulleys and gears working in the background that are supporting the comedy. Here, it’s a sort of reactionary attempt at humour to appeal to the masses who enjoy a good giggle, and you can see the attempt at the joke rather than getting the joke and laughing along with it.

    Watching Microsoft try to be funny is like watching your dad dance at a wedding. For whatever reason, it seems to be beyond them. So, I agree that they should explain why their product is different and how I will benefit using it. I really would like to know – from them, without the gags.

  • Sean Morrissy

    That jingle was terrible. I’d love to see bing hurt Google a little, but I don’t really see how they’re going to do that. I doubt the people over at Google would be too worried right now.

    And why oh why did I click that vomit ad link. I’d love to know the name of the ad agency who created that masterpice…


  • Dan

    This video is the equivalent of putting a dancing clown in front of a Sears and expecting people to shop there instead of Target or Wal*Mart.

    Lisa is 100% right.

  • Stefan Weitz

    Stefan from Bing here. You will learn to love that jingle. I sing it in the shower in the morning and in the car in the way to BingHQ.

    But folks – we didn’t create it. The community created it (ok, we sponsored a contest and the winner got 500 bucks), and the community on YouTube voted for the winner. We didn’t create, we didn’t pick it as the winner – y’all did. :)

    But I like this one, too.

  • SEOmofo

    Microsoft never rooted themselves in the idea of being the best, the most innovative, the most user-friendly, the most visually appealing, etc. Nor did they care if people liked them or their products. When you bought a PC you were forced into an arranged marriage with Microsoft. The end.

    I really like this quote from Alysson. It sheds some more light on why Microsoft isn’t funny. Lisa, your post suggests it’s because “funny” is not something we associate with the Microsoft brand, but that’s only half the story. I think a more-accurate description would have to include something about how we’ve all been burned by Microsoft products at some point in our lives. In other words, Microsoft has to overcome a negative public sentiment–not a neutral one.

    I never considered Doritos to be a funny brand either, but their ’09 Superbowl commercials made me crack up. In a single commercial, they redefined their brand’s image in my mind. Prior to those commercials, I didn’t really have a strong opinion about Doritos. But if I had grown up in a world where Doritos were the only food available… and each bag took 2 hours to open… and some bags would explode at random and burn your face off…

    …then no, I wouldn’t have laughed at their commercials either.

  • Lee Kaplanian

    Maybe Microsoft needs a character for its marketing – it certainly worked for Geico and Aflac. They have been around for a long time but not really noticed until about 10 years or more ago when they brought in the gecko and the duck. A character needs to have a personality and some quirks and flaws to make it interesting, but it has to fit the company. I’d be happy to help them find one that works for them.

    I agree with Alysson, Microsoft has not ever given the users the “warm fuzzies” in all the years they have been around. The fun and laughter is on their campus rather than out to the public. It’s the big gorilla here in Seattle area, so we are used to it.