Cortana vs Siri and other terrible tech advertising (videos)

29 Jul 2014

Microsoft has gotten stick for its Cortana advert that tried to mock Apple’s Siri, but it’s not the first time Microsoft, Apple and others have gotten tech advertising wrong.

Coming after Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now voice command technology for its smartphones, Microsoft’s Cortana is trying to raise its game by engaging in the eternal battle between Microsoft and Apple that in recent years has seen the former put on the back foot and its recent advert hasn’t helped its image.

Because of a difference in US law, companies have much more lenient rules when it comes to openly mocking rival companies, which makes adverts such as this latest one appear rather peculiar and ill-advised.

However, this isn’t the first time that Microsoft, Apple and other companies have slipped up in their attempts to sell their latest merchandise.

Jerry Seinfeld flogs Microsoft Vista

Sticking with Microsoft, legendary comedian Jerry Seinfeld was signed up by the Seattle company to bring a bit of humour to not just Microsoft, but also its founder and billionaire owner Bill Gates with a series of adverts that reportedly cost US$300m to produce, which only makes the adverts more baffling in their meaning.

Perhaps the most memorable one involved Seinfeld interrupting Gates while buying his shoes … and that’s pretty much it, with a brief mention of something coming in the future.

Mac vs PC

While Apple’s marketing budget has regressed in the face of overwhelming dominance of the marketplace, not too long ago it was engaging in an openly attack ad-based series known as Mac vs PC which, depending on where you were living, had two noticeable faces standing in a white room with one claiming to be a PC and the other a Mac.

In the UK and Ireland, comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb played a PC and Mac, respectively, with Webb’s character making fun of Mitchell’s stick-in-the-mud mentality, slow speeds and clunky system.

What they hadn’t copped onto, however, was the public’s reaction which, in Webb’s own words (video), didn’t go as planned because the British and Irish sense of humour were obviously going to find his smug mentality as a Mac rather irksome.

Dr Dre remasters HP Envy laptop

Why do marketing companies – and those involved in an advert – not realise when everyone involved looks absolutely ridiculous?

In 2009, HP launched its range of Envy laptops which, as a marketing gimmick, included Beats audio technology that hoped would sell laptops to the musically oriented market.

While obviously making sense at the time, having Dr Dre in your video was probably going to be a necessary feature if they’re to sell to the public.

And yet, they decided to create a creepy Minority Report-style world where Dr Dre has been transformed into some robot/DJ hybrid trapped in a manufacturing facility adding Beats’ logos onto the mainframe of the Envy laptops, all while awkwardly bobbing his head like he’s stuck in a glitched loop; awful.

At least now that Beats was purchased by Apple, we can hope that any similar videos won’t grace our screens.

Time Warner vs Verizon

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In 2005, Verizon launched its FiOS bundle for internet, TV and phone which also aimed to replace the copper wire systems in favour of optical-fibre power.

Seeing as Time Warner, Verzion’s largest competitor, had already rolled out its fibre network, it decided to do what American adverts do best, make fun of the competition and say FiOS is already too late.

All that this advert did, however, was make the American public cringe into their loungers as a man made rainbow motions with his hands in a below-average CG affair in what is just a bad piece of TV.

Of course, now the two companies have teamed up with Verizon, offering packages with access to Time Warner’s media content and now focuses its efforts on trying to end net neutrality.

Groupon’s Tibetan restaurant fiasco

Talk about ill-advised. The online voucher company Groupon showed an astonishing lack of self-awareness and compassion when it decided to run an advert during the 2011 Superbowl, one of the most watched sports events in the word, and belittle the struggles of the people of Tibet to gain their independence from China.

In what almost seems a parody, actor and director Timothy Hutton begins by highlighting the country’s struggles, only to follow up by offering comfort in the fact they can at least migrate to the US and get a US$30 meal for just US$15. Well, that’s certainly a relief.

Piracy: It’s a crime

Perhaps the granddaddy of them all. For many people watching DVDs in the early-to-mid 2000s, this unskippable advert was a regular moaning point.

As entertainment industries still struggled to think of effective ways of kerbing online piracy, this advert told viewers, “You wouldn’t steal a car”. Of course, many joked that if they could download a car they probably would, but it did little to help the cause.

In fact, it was even made fun of in popular TV programmes, perhaps the most famous of which was in Graham Linehan’s IT Crowd, which went even a step further (video) than the entertainment industry.

Siri image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic