Hype Sheet: Microsoft's Destructive Kneeslapper

The Pitch Rarely does wanton demolition fail to entertain, and this Microsoft spot is certainly no exception. The ad starts off as a shoulder-shrugger—with a crane slowly lifting a pallet of telephony equipment into place—then turns uproarious when the cable snaps. A car is thus pancaked in spectacular fashion, and the handheld camera pans across a few startled onlookers—including the crane operator, who skedaddles from the scene as if Cerberus himself were nipping at his heels. The spot ends with a couple of banners fashioned after police tape, imploring viewers to "VoIP As You Are" with Microsoft's gracious assistance. So when did the Colossus of Redmond develop a sense of humor? And will businesses really be wheedled into trusting their treasured voice communications to the folks who brought us the Blue Screen of Death?Rip-Off Of I immediately thought back to Nike's excellent "Skateboarding is Not a Crime" campaign from a few years back, in which joggers and tennis players were subjected to the various indignities suffered by America's skaters. Same handheld camerawork, same sharp wit, albeit in the service of products that are much easier for Joe Q. Public to process.

The Spin There's a notoriously high level of turnover amongst CIOs, a.k.a. "career is over." This is in part due to burnout issues, but also because CIOs can so easily take the fall for massive hardware investments gone wrong. Microsoft's knows there's less apparent risk in software fixes, a point it's stressing with this whole "VoIP As You Are" campaign. No, Microsoft isn't really suggesting that investing in a host of new PBXs will result in crushed cars or other incidents of hilarious/tragic property destruction. But it's driving home the message that going VoIP needn't be as complicated as it sounds, and that going the software route can be a career-saver. (Check out the flustered IT geek atop the office building at the commercial's end—he is so fired.)

Counterspin A software-only solution to VoIPing a business sounds great, but that means everything is dependent on the quality of the code. As a result, a lot's riding on the industry's initial response to Microsoft's Office Communication Server 2007, slated for its formal, hype-splashed debut in a little under three weeks. Forgive me if this sounds a bit cynical, but there are bound to be some serious growing pains for OCS—there's no reason to expect fewer bugs than in Vista, right? And one can reasonably argue that voice is even more important to a lot of businesses than data. True, old-style telephony ain't perfect, either. But Microsoft is asking for an awful lot of trust here, which those of us who've gone bonkers over driver woes may not be so quick to grant.

Takeaway As this article points out, a lot of enterprise customers recognise that VoIP is the future, but surprisingly few have actually made the switch. Microsoft has been smart to identify why CIOs and their crews are reticent about doing so—namely, that they're loathe to purchase bulky hardware, perhaps because it attracts the unwanted scrutiny of the CEO and his minions. (As this commercial so ably demonstrates, you're a lot likelier to notice a mess o' PBXs coming through the front door than a bunch of CDs.) A pick-it-and-forget-it software solution certainly sounds grand. But as Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala so artfully puts it, "There will be some quality issues as the product matures." I'll bet.

Hype-O-Meter 9 (out of 10). The crane operator high-tailing from the accident is priceless, as is the reaction of the appalled oldster behind the car. (He looks as if someone just spoiled the plot of a Murder, She Wrote episode.) The first funny Microsoft commercial in memory, and an effective—if somewhat information-free—word-spreader for its VoIP gamble.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired, a columnist for Slate, and author of the forthcoming Now the Hell Will Start. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

Read more Hype Sheet

Trending Stories Right Now