Commercial Break: The Commercial About Nothing
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 11, 2008
“What’s the deal with absurdism?”
“is that your toe?”
“Then what is it?”
(Seinfeld and Gates stare at each other, nodding silently)
You don’t see too many Next Level moments during ESPN Football commercial breaks, but this was almost certainly one of them. Likely you have seen or at least heard of this commercial by now, in which ex-funnyman Jerry Seinfeld and Microsoft mogul Bill Gates go shoe-shopping at the mall. They determine Bill’s shoe size, debate the merits of showering fully dressed, and munch on some churros. It plays mostly like a surreal sketch comedy bit, except the two men playing Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates are indeed Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, and there is no apparent laugh track. Oh, and at the end–and this is a long commercial–Jerry acknowledges that Bill is indeed the head of a company called Microsoft, and asks him if they’re ever going to make computers “moist and chewy, like cake, so we could just eat them while we’re working?” Bill, of course, confirms yes. Words flash on the screen: “THE FUTURE” “DELICIOUS”. Then the Microsoft Logo. Commercial over.
It’s hard to know where to even begin talking about this commercial. There’s so much going on here that I’ve never seen before in a commercial, despite the fact that nothing much happens for the ad’s duration (this, no doubt, was probably the reaction to Seinfeld when it first aired as well). Perhaps most important, though, is the fact that there is no product actually advertised in this commercial. The word “Microsoft” is mentioned once, along with the picture of the logo at the end, but not only is there no specific release tied to the commercial–no new line or operating system or innovation or anything–there’s no selling of the benefits of Microsoft as a company to speak of, either (unless, of course, you are a member of that vocal minority that genuinely believes that computers should double as desserts). There’s no pitching at all. And, uh, most commercials tend to do that a little bit.
Indeed, at first glance, it’s hard to tell exactly what the intended purpose of this commercial is. There’s no statement being made, no clear or hidden message to be found–my roommate did hypothesize some sort of theory about how it was about hope for the future, directly tied to the campaign of Barack Obama, but I think he was drunk and stoned at the time, and when I asked him to repeat his analysis after watching the commercial again, he said he had already forgotten what it was and would try to figure it out again tomorrow. Really, it appears to simply be what it is–a bizarro little sketch number with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld making like Spade and Farley, for no particular reason. To be fair, I haven’t tried playing it backwards yet, but barring some Rob Halford-style subliminal trickery, I think that’s about it.
That’s not to say, though, that there’s not a little explanation behind it. Apparently, Microsoft has been hurting recently in the business world, partly due to the disastrous Vista fall-out, and not helped by Apple’s unfortunately super-popular “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads, presenting PCs as stodgy and out of date, compared of course to the supermodel-attractive, unbearably hip Justin Long/Mac. Microsoft has sought out a rebranding of sorts, and to that end, they have hired Seinfeld–picking up a $10 million check for his efforts–to help make the company popular again. Given Seinfeld’s price tag, and the fact that the ad campaign in general was valued at around $300 million, I’m guessing that there are more of these commercials to come (unless, of course, those were really nice churros). Perhaps this is just the first step, an introduction to the brilliant comic dynamic of these two billionaire clowns, laying the groundwork for better, more ambitious things to come.
Personally, I’m all for it. There are so many moments in this commercial that just kill me–the one at the beginning of the article, mostly, but also the way Seinfeld and Gates seem initially shocked to see each other but instantly get over it, the look of perplexed disgust Gates gives Seinfeld after his shower-clothing confession, and of course, Gates’ blase reaction to Jerry’s super-ridiculous top-secret question. These two have a weird sort of peer chemsitry going on, and I can’t wait to see it played out a little more. Plus, lest we forget, just a short nine months ago, Jerry Seinfeld inducted as a Pop Culture Enemy into IITS’s 2007 Hall of Fame, largely for his grossly self-serving, utterly offensive HP commercial (tied in with his horrifying paycheck role in Bee Movie). To see him working on the side of good in the battle for decent televisual advertising is heartwarming, to say the least.
Will this represent a sea change in the way major businesses advertise? Maybe. Will it make sitting through shitty Verizon commercials for the seven millionth time slightly more bearable? Almost certainly. Justin Long, your days are numbered.