Presidential campaigning is on hiatus until later this year, but that isn't stopping some people who've got plenty of money in their coffers from getting up close and personal with TV-watching Americans. "Twenty-five years ago, my friends and I started with nothing but an idea -- that we could harness the power of the PC to improve people's lives," says Bill Gates in his high-pitched nasal voice, as acoustic guitar plays gently in the background. For 30 seconds, the richest man in the world makes an unspecified appeal to the American people, an unspecified appeal whose message is readily apparent to most anyone who has seen the new TV commercial.
When Gates, dressed in a conservative dark sweater, says "Since then, [the PC has] become a tool that has transformed our economy and had a profound effect on how we live and how our children learn," he may as well be saying, "Look what I've done to transform our economy. A vote for Microsoft is a vote for a strong economy." Gates doesn't go so far as to say to write to our congressperson and tell them to call off the Justice Department hounds, but it wouldn't feel out of place here.
Designed by ad agency McCann-Erickson, the commercial is part of Microsoft's ongoing corporate image campaign, according to Microsoft spokesman Dan Leach. Gates has been in TV ads at least once before, touting a soft drink for another company, but this marks the first time Gates has appeared on behalf of Microsoft. "With all the issues in the news, we just thought it was a good time for the American public to hear directly from Bill Gates," said Leach. "He's the perfect person to talk about innovation and technology at Microsoft."
The feel-good spot, which began airing the same week that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that Microsoft violated antitrust law, ends with Gates saying, "Our goal at Microsoft is to create the next generation of software, to keep innovating and improving what we can do for you. The best is yet to come." But it's hard not to take away a different campaign message: that Microsoft has the power and funds to shape public, as well as political, opinion.