As Caleb observed yesterday, even on those occasions when Microsoft has a really great product to offer, somehow the presentation is always a little...off. They're just trying too hard. Or overthinking.
Even this guy doesn't understand "the new busy."
This results in embarrassments such as the hot new mobile phone with a name that seems to have come from a spare parts catalog. Or the paunchy, middle-aged executive wearing his salmon-colored Lands' End shirt untucked to demonstrate how synced up he is with youth culture.
And yet these mishaps can barely compare to the widespread urban blight being caused by Microsoft's latest, and possibly strangest, marketing disaster: a new ad campaign for Hotmail.
Are you ready for "the New Busy"? Well, doesn't matter now. This exercise in tone-weirdness, this ball of syntactical confusion, has started showing up on billboards, buses, banner ads, and the signature lines of Hotmail users everywhere.
The campaign has already come in for some well-deserved ridicule from one prominent East Coast columnist, who called it "gibberish." Microsoft itself doesn't appear certain as to what its bizarre phrase refers to.
"The new busy" seems to want to be a concept, like "the new black."
I guess I understand that. We used to be busy accomplishing things, now we're busy watching cat videos sent to us on Hotmail. So maybe 'wasting time' is the new 'busy.' Maybe. Microsoft never actually says WHAT's the new busy.
But then, elsewhere, such as on Microsoft's own New Busy Web site, it appears that The New Busy actually refers to a group of people. Analogous, perhaps, to The New Avengers, or The New Pornographers (except without the plural noun that allows the phrase to make sense).
Indeed, as described on the site, these New Busy are kinda like that guy in the untucked Lands' End shirt--pretty career-focused, but watch out, they've got a bit of a wacky side! Despite their "full calendars," they find time to "make pancakes into exotic animal shapes."
(I could tell you more but, in classic Microsoft fashion, the "New Busy" site doesn't work unless you download some new software the company's pushing, called Silverlight. Sorry 'Soft. Too busy.)
The basic strategy here appears to be the time-honored one in which a company tries to flatter its potential customers by letting them know they're nothing at all like their parents--"with their stress balls, their antacids and their crazy eyes." No, all of us busy people today are busy in this totally unprecedented way that calls for, well, apparently for a 15-year-old web-based email program.
You think it can't get worse, but it does. There's bus ads too, which are even more unfathomable. They leave the New Busy stuff out and just show the animal pancakes with a line that says "firstname.lastname@example.org." Drop an email to that address and you'll get more info about crazy pancake-making in the reply. You'll also see this bit of boilerplate, which seems to indicate that the New Busy is actually some sort of shadowy department within the Redmond empire:
"You requested to receive this message from the New Busy. Unless you make another request to receive additional messages, the New Busy will not contact you again."
This is the same company that began inexplicably adding the words "Windows Live" to all its product names a few years ago, including Windows Live Hotmail (which was previously known as MSN Hotmail, and is now apparently known as Hotmail again), so the confusing nomenclature isn't too much of a surprise.
And in the end, maybe Microsoft has succeeded in adding a new phrase to the lexicon. The next time an ad campaign comes along that's straining to be zeitgeist-y and manages only to be inscrutable, we'll know what to call it: "the new 'New Busy'."
UPDATE: I chatted with the Seattle ad agency that created this campaign. Here's what they had to say.