With the Windows 7 launch looming, Microsoft is sponsoring Fox's upcoming "Family Guy" comedy special in an apparent bid to market Windows 7 to viewers in a way that's unconventional and creative.
The astonishingly irreverent Family Guy show often pokes fun at Microsoft, and Bill Gates and the Zune have been targets in the past. But while Family Guy's raucous content might seem a bit outside of Microsoft's typical marketing purview, Microsoft seems to think that the right kind of edgily-crafted Windows 7-related marketing content will resonate with the show's audience.
The Family Guy special, which airs Nov. 8, will be shown commercial-free without any breaks or network promotions, and will instead "feature unique Windows 7-branded programming that blends seamlessly with show content," according to Microsoft. The show will celebrate the work of Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy," "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show," and also stars MacFarlane's "Family Guy" co-star, Alex Borstein.
Microsoft is bringing in the big guns on this campaign, which makes sense because it will have to be very carefully crafted -- and funny -- in order to work. Universal McCann and Crispin, Porter + Bogusky have been asked to come up with what Microsoft calls "customized branded integrations" that are designed in the same vein as the "Texaco Star Theater" radio and television shows of the 1940s and 1950s.
In 2008, Microsoft hired Crispin, Porter + Bogusky as part of a $300 million brand resuscitation effort aimed at counteracting Apple's devilishly effective 'Get A Mac' campaign. Microsoft executives have spent much of this year talking about how well that investment has paid off, and despite some early hiccups -- namely the Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates head-scratchers -- the Crispin, Porter + Bogusky spots have been well received by Microsoft partners.
Gayle Troberman, general manager of consumer engagement and advertising at Microsoft, says the goal of the Family Guy sponsorship is to show how the power and simplicity of Windows 7 can enhance popular Fox content. "We have simplified the PC with Windows 7, and together with FOX, we're simplifying entertainment," Troberman said in a statement.
Microsoft is also teaming with Fox Licensing and Merchandising for a 12-week tour of U.S. colleges that will encourage students to test out Windows 7 and also feature outdoor movie nights and other "customized entertainment," the company said in a statement. In this effort, Microsoft and Fox expect to reach some 4.3 million college students.
Microsoft is obviously ramping up the 'cool' factor with its Family Guy and college-focused Windows 7 campaigns, but the Windows 7 marketing message will have to be outrageous, daring, and funny. Otherwise, it'll just be another target for ridicule.