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Thursday, August 21, 2008, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Microsoft taps Seinfeld to help battle Apple in new ad campaign

Battered and bruised by a long-running advertising campaign on the part of rival Apple, Inc., Microsoft Corp. is turning to sitcom star and world renowned comedian Jerry Seinfeld to help clean up the public perception of its Windows Vista operating system.

Citing "people close to the situation," the Wall Street Journal reports that the Redmond-based software giant will pay Seinfeld a cool $10 million to serve as a pitchman alongside company chairman Bill Gates in a new series of ads that will begin airing on September 4th.

The ads will use some variation of the slogan "Windows, Not Walls," according to the report, and "stress breaking down barriers that prevent people and ideas from connecting." They'll be just one part of a much broader $300 million campaign, however, which is said to be one of the largest in Microsoft's history.

Over the past two years, Apple has used series of international ads to attack the shortcomings of Microsoft's latest operating system, Vista, while highlighting the strengths of its own Mac platform. The ads feature staid and witless PC character who's constantly outclassed by a hipster Mac guy.

Although Microsoft has contested the ads, claiming they portray Vista unfairly, the company has also recognized the recent progress of Apple, which has seen its PC sales growth rate soar to three times that of the overall industry.

"In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving," Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer wrote in the email to employees last month. "Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience."

Going forward, Ballmer said Microsoft will be changing the way it works with hardware vendors to mimic the experience offered by the Mac maker in which there will be "absolutely no compromises." As a first order of business, Ballmer promised to begin mending the image of Vista now that the release of SP1 has largely addressed a number of compatibility issues that plagued the software in its early going.

"Now it’s time to tell our story," he told employees. "In the weeks ahead, we’ll launch a campaign to address any lingering doubts our customers may have about Windows Vista. And later this year, you’ll see a more comprehensive effort to redefine the meaning and value of Windows for our customers."

According to the Journal, Microsoft also considered a range of other famous personalities for the role ultimately retained by Seinfeld, such as comedians Will Ferrell and Chris Rock.

The upcoming campaign is to be "the brainchild of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a Miami-based ad shop that has helped revitalize brands such as Burger King."

Ironically, the computers featured in the 9-year situation comedy Seinfeld, for which the comedian payed a semi-fictional version of himself, were always Macs.