Ted Simon - Just a Marketing Minute

Viral Is as Viral Does - And YOU Can't Do Anything About It

I may be a latecomer to this Windows 7 party, but since I'm crashing late I just have to take a marketing minute here on this one.

Today's guest: Microsoft Windows 7 "Hosting Your Party" video. A great example of one of those "it's-so-bad-it's-good-or-at-least-shared-like- crazy" videos that may or may not have ever been intended to be placed on You Tube (Redmond says: no...was never meant to be an ad or a viral video).  Well, intended or not, it's #4 with a bullet on Ad Age's Viral Video Chart, and according to YouTube will soon be closing in on 1 million views.  (See my Top 5 Reasons why MSFT created this video)

After sitting through the entire 6-minute plus video (I may be one of the few -- I was hoping there would be something cool to see if I stayed with it till the end, like at the end of "X-Men 3" or something),  I'm pretty convinced that each of those YouTube views are unique visitors.  No one can watch this more than once.

I think the acronym "OMG!" applies here. I'm laughing, I'm crying, I'm cringing all at once. To say this video is bad is to say that the Titanic was a boat wreck!  It's actually so bad I have to wonder if it was purposely scripted, directed and acted that way, like a Saturday Night Live commercial spoof (again, MSFT says this was never intended to be an ad...hmm, one has to wonder...).

While many would say the acting was terrible, I beg to differ. I mean, if these people were not good actors, how else would they keep a straight face through that script (“…and some of my favorite Windows 7 features are…”) complete with lame attempts at friends joking and ribbing each other. Yuk, yuk...yuck!  No matter what this was intended for, I'm wondering if those actors can look themselves in the mirror ever again. I don't blame them for taking this gig though...everyone needs to eat and pay bill.

I could go on and on about all that this video has NOT going for it. But so many have done that already, it feels like I'd be penalized 15 yards for piling on. Wait...one more rip...does anyone think that MSFT's idea for people hosting Windows 7 parties like some cool event is really a great marketing idea?  Thou dost try too hard.  OK...I see the ref's flag...give me 15 yards.

However, I do have a couple of points to make...or, rather that this video makes for me.

First, MSFT says this was never intended to be a viral video or an ad (and the cynic in me goes back and forth on whether to believe that or not). The key point is: it doesn't matter what MSFT intended. Viral activity is NOT in the strict control of the company or marketer! For good or for bad, love it or hate it, "virality" is in the hands of the people. A scary, but true, point in our brave new world of UGC.  Get used to it folks (if you aren't already).

Second, the words of Sgt. Esterhuis of Hill Street Blues are ringing in my ears: "Be careful out there." Now, more than ever, once you have an asset, good or bad, if you don't control it with utmost security, it can come back and bite you (which is why I am not 100% convinced that this was not "allowed" to leak out). So, all you Marketing, PR, Creative and whatever types...grab your assets and hold 'em tight. Unless you don't care what happens to 'em (which may be what you want...but see my first point...YOU are not in control).

Final point: Lost (almost) in all this is Windows 7. I'm a PC owner with some aging (XP) equipment, so this new operating system does have some relevance to me.  I've read some good things about Windows 7 (much better than Vista, etc.) and some bad things (upgrade nightmare). But any worthwhile or helpful messages about Windows 7 gets lost in this whole thing.  Or, worse, this product is made to look like a lame joke. And, that's what they call a "negative brand perception."  Not good for MSFT.  At the end of the day, as a PC owner, I sure hope Windows 7 is a whole lot better than this video...otherwise, I may start hanging out with that cool Mac dude in those Apple commercials.