If you have a television, you've seen the snarky Apple ads that personify Microsoft as a hapless dork in a bad suit. That "loser" characterization went more or less unchallenged until a recent Microsoft campaign kicked off with some surreal spots featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.

One vignette—set in a discount shoe store—shows a churro-wielding Seinfeld as he helps Gates choose a pair of loafers; a family watching from outside the store is fascinated, not by the fact that these two moguls are shopping in a mall, but by the shoe style under consideration. "Is that the Conquistador?" asks the mother.

In another, lengthier episode, the pair move in with an average family à la Paris Hilton's The Simple Life. When a frustrated Gates asks why they're doing this, Seinfeld responds, "You and I are a little out of it. You're living in some kind of moon house hovering over Seattle like the mother ship. I got so many cars, I get stuck in my own traffic. We need to connect with real people."

The offbeat humor in these ads has produced dramatically varied responses. And in a post at the Church of the Customer Blog, Ben McConnell argues that any reaction is a good reaction. "You loved them, hated them, or were baffled by them," he says. "That made them polarizing, [and] therefore a strong foundation-builder."

"I see this as a campaign to change both external and internal expectations," says McConnell. "Whatever the outcome, it's fascinating to watch the real-time evolution." We agree—and see plenty of Marketing Inspiration in the experiment.

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