Dissecting Microsoft's incomprehensibly bad Windows Phone 7 ad (updated)

If Don Draper were alive today (or even real), he'd have a field day with Microsoft's teaser ad for Windows Phone 7. If you haven't seen it, take a look at it above. I'll wait. In the meantime I'll chain smoke a couple of Luckys and down a double Scotch since Microsoft's Mad Men seem to think this is 1962.

Hazy Reference — Literally

First, what does a nearly 50-year-old movie about a World War I British adventurer have to do with a cellphone OS? Oh, I get it — WM7 is coming out of the wilderness.

But Microsoft's wilderness isn't exactly as natural as the hazy desert depicted; it's one of its own making. Consider the kludginess of the original Windows Mobile OS, the instant anachronisms that were WM6 and especially 6.5, and the abject failure of the ur-WM7 Kins, with their overemphasis on loud, slide-tile puzzle, big 1990s minimalist lower-case sans-serif font aesthetics.

The origin of the Microsoft's cellphone wilderness can be debated. But other than drooling geezer cinemaphiles like me (for the record, Lawrence of Arabia is one of my top five fav films of all time), who would even get this David Lean-lite reference? (NEW INFO: I've added an update below the explains the context, which was pointed out to me by commenters. The text of this post is being left as originally written for full transparency. Click here to jump to the update.)

Considering the competition WM7 faces, maybe a more contemporary combative youth-oriented cinema reference such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World or Kick-Ass would be more appropriate. Imagine a Michael Cera-like nerd representing WM7, who comically kicks the graphic-novel chips out of previous macho boyfriends: iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Maybe not wholly original, but it'd at least be more metaphorically recognizable to WM7's theoretical target audience.

Ending Credits

The capper on this commercial catastrophe is the teaser text at the end. "The Revolution is Coming" — displayed in faux Arabic script.

First, any product that anoints itself revolutionary usually is anything but. But, in this post-9/11 world super-sized by the current climate of manufactured "Islamophobia," Microsoft chooses an Arabic script to foretell a pending revolution? I'm staring at the presentation of this preposterous prognostication, well, keeping with our 1960s cinema theme, like the audience in The Producers (the 1968 original) after witnessing the "Springtime for Hitler" production number.

Preview of Coming Attractions

But this spectacularly culture-blind disaster of an ad could serve as a metaphor on the dim future of WM7. Having played with, and panned, both Kins, and had my hands on one of the first WM7 phones (my lips are forcibly nondisclosure-agreement-sealed on from whom and when), it's hard to imagine any converts from the iOS, Android or BlackBerry camps, or who Microsoft thinks will be interested in yet another mobile OS with a dearth of apps.

Since we're playing obscure Lawrence of Arabia references, I believe the cellphone desert will swallow up and cover WM7 like it did Daud during Lawrence's trek to Cairo across Sinai after the capture of Aqaba. The only thing we'll remember of WM7 is this Mad Men reject of an ad.

UPDATE: Mea culpa. I (and my editor) missed this trailer being produced and shown as part of a partnership with Secret Cinema, a London-based series of film viewings at "secret locations." Not being English, I simply didn't know and, therefore, had no reason to investigate. My thanks to the commenters (assumedly some of whom are Londoners) to keeping me honest.


While originally produced for a specific showing of Lawrence of Arabia by the Secret Cinema, the trailer was officially posted on YouTube by Windows Phone U.K., an official Microsoft Windows Phone site. In other words, it was not a "one-off" — clearly, marketing executives intended it be viewed by a much wider audience. And really, in today's viral Web environment, nothing is a "one-off." I bumped into it and I wasn't even looking for it, and I'm sure many of the other nearly half million folks who have viewed it thus far, out of context, would have the same response I did — WTF?!

Knowing it was originally produced to compliment Lawrence merely provides the context for its production. And in that context, it is a clever twist surely appreciated by its originally intended viewers, and, now, by me. But after the trailer goes viral, this original context is lost, and all that's left is the first impression, which I stand by.

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