After the first two salvos in a $300 Million ad campaign, launched to soften and redefine Microsoft’s image, failed to connect despite making use of comedian Jerry Seinfeld and former Microsoft CEO and world’s richest geek Bill Gates, Microsoft has been pushing a slew of new ads in recent months. And arguably, not one of them has hit the mark.

I wrote a while ago that the attempt at humor had fallen flat precisely because Microsoft’s “The Powerbroker” archetype had been so deeply entrenched, almost literally burned into the mind of the consumer for decades. Did things get any easier from there?

The next salvo a few months ago featured the “I’m a PC” ads which cast Microsoft (by way of its supposed users) as a strange mixture of proud/aggressive and defiant/sulking. It was pointed out then that “Microsoft as Victim” just doesn’t really work. And again, the archetype branding explains why: You cannot be “The Powerbroker” and still garner much sympathy for supposedly having been wronged.

This same theme was picked up once more recently with the “not cool enough for a Mac” ad featuring a girl named Lauren, which really was meant to focus on price as an angle to attack the notoriously premium-priced “Mac” products. In theory the idea of highlighting one of your competitor’s weaknesses (price) is workable, especially during a severe recession. But you cannot do it while violating your core archetypes.

If Microsoft had said something like, “we are the largest software company on the planet, and because of that we can create economies of scale in the production of PCs and their loading with software that much smaller competitors like Apple just cannot match, thus saving you money”, it would have made some sense.

But not with this passive-aggressive jabbing built in. It confuses people. Instinctively, no one takes it seriously when the 800 pound gorilla complains about having “unfairly” been called “not cool enough”.

And then Microsoft recently launched another ad in the series that went all wrong yet again. Silicon Alley Insider explains why:

Jackson [the kid] mentions offhand he wants “a good gaming computer.” This is a fantastic line of attack for Microsoft: The Mac has a tiny library of professionally produced games compared to what’s on PCs [...] But Microsoft fumbles the ball, and doesn’t follow through with what’s arguably their best anti-Mac selling point after “PCs are cheaper.”

Instead, Jackson’s mom makes an incredibly off-target anti-Apple smear: Checking out the Macs, she says “they’re kind of popular with this age.” Umm, no. Kids can’t afford Mac prices or appreciate Mac build quality. Far better for Microsoft to stick with [...] Macs are kind of popular with hip adults, but expensive.

So the theme of hurt feelings clouding Microsoft’s positioning and marketing continues. In truth, as the incumbent and still near monopolist (85-90% share despite Apple’s recent inroads) in the personal computer market, Microsoft would do better not to mention “Mac” at all.

“The Powerbroker” archetype by definition can choose to ignore the much smaller competitor. Reacting to any perceived slight only makes people wonder what is going on.

But the branding confusion gets even more pronounced with the recent launch of a new series of Microsoft ads featuring a strange mixture of low key scrap-booking and CEO interview voice-overs, punctuated by a slogan of “Microsoft – The People Ready Business”:

First, scrap-booking is not exactly associated with CEOs. And the overall informal tone of the ads only heightens the confusion. While we can understand in principle where they were trying to go with this, softening up the image, making CEOs cool somehow as they are buying into the “people ready business” message, it just doesn’t work.

Why? Again because it violates “The Powerbroker” archetype attributions of which our mental image of a CEO is a prime example. It will never really fit with “The Loyalist” archetype (buddy/friendship/etc.) that is being angled for here. Your CEO will never quite be your buddy, unless you are on the board of directors or something like that (or maybe work at Zappos).

What’s the end result? Ads that don’t work, that don’t “stick” in your or anyone else’s mind, because they are just too confusing. Microsoft has tried a number of times in the past to bring “The Loyalist” archetype into its marketing (MS Office as your buddy brand at work, etc.), and it never really worked too well then either.

So what’s the solution? 1) Figure out who you are first, what archetypes make sense for you, what you truly want to stand for. 2) Communicate that consistently, without fail. If you did your homework in step 1), it should in fact be HARD to get step 2) wrong.

In Microsoft’s case, it should simply embrace that which it already is, “The Powerbroker”. It has served it exceedingly well in the B2B (Business-To-Business) realm, because “The Powerbroker” is something virtually every business person understands and intuitively respects.

Notice that most of its software has been sold to other BUSINESSES first, even if it ends up on the consumer’s home PC, or their computer at work. Why mess with that out of a sense of hurt corporate ego?