You can imagine the conversation in the agency...
"What’s the brief on the models for the Microsoft posters?"
"They’re real people."
"But real people don’t say ‘Because I want to make my blah-blah GREAT."
"Yeah, I know. But anyway, they’re supposed to look real."
"Not ‘modelly’ then?"
"No, definitely not ‘modelly’. But not ugly, quirky, ordinary or in any way ‘street’."
"So, we’re not talking the characters from the ‘MicMacs’ movie are we? Shall I just round up the usual suspects of pleasant, bland, perfect-smiled bods?"
"Guess so. Just don’t make them as smug-looking as the Windows campaign lot."
When your 48-sheet is dominated by a portrait, you’d think that the photograph would be eye-catching and, for the waiting commuters on a station platform near you, reward repeated viewing. Not in Microsoft’s current campaign for Office 2010.
While the outdoor work does have the virtue of simplicity, it has the primary vice you’d expect of a mega tech corporation. It’s achingly dull.
This is a shame, as my more geeky friends tell me that the new version of Office is actually quite good. Even the dreaded PowerPoint has had a proper makeover and emerged with some "pretty cool" features.
OK, all of it is years overdue; but we’ve come to expect that of Microsoft, for whom the phrase "over-promise and under-deliver" could have been invented.
What about the copy? Well, when a headline has to be a variant of the bombastic strapline/web address, you’re not off to a good start are you? In fact, you’ve crippled the copywriter. (I’d hate to think a fellow-scribe made that decision themselves.)
As for the "Make It Great" website, it is at least synergous with the advertising – in other words, it has a nice, clean look, but undersells the product.
But let’s get back to the models. I don’t know about you but when big companies successfully break the mould in a genre of advertising, you expect more of their peers to follow suit.
Take Unilever’s "Campaign for real beauty". Launched in 2004 with Rankin behind the lens, it’s now a multi-faceted, worldwide campaign.
Its popularity among women is reflected in how fast Dove products leave the supermarket shelves. In one region, the ads prompted a 600% uplift in sales.
Six years since this all started, the "Campaign for real beauty" is still fronted by real people. It shows and it works.
For a top advertiser to take a stance on a social concern and be bold and different in their advertising – that takes some balls.
What do Microsoft find when they reach down to their collective, er, bravery units? Because next time they’ll need a lot more of it to make their advertising great.
Simon S Kershaw is a creative consultant and a former creative director at Craik Jones.