Now here’s an odd marketing campaign – so odd, in fact, that I wonder if I’m missing a level or two of self-mocking irony. Microsoft is running a sweepstakes to promote Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac based on the slogan, "Get in touch with your inner suit." This is a good thing? "Suit" isn’t generally a positive term – the suits are the buttoned-down executives generally responsible for (or at least blamed for) all the bad stuff in technology companies. Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss is a suit. Enron suits bilked shareholders of billions. This is not a good thing.
But wait, it gets weirder. There are nine prizes. Why nine? No idea, other than perhaps it’s an odd number. But then, 11 would have made more sense, since Office 2004 is really considered Office 11 (check the names of its preference files if you don’t believe me).
So what are these prizes? If you win, you get a copy of Office 2004, of course, but the real prize that Microsoft is pushing is a "business professional action figure." In the picture of the hip young fashion designer on the sweepstakes Web page, you can see what that means: a personalized doll that looks sort of like you, dressed in your Monday-go-to-business-meetings best. Look at the picture. Would you rather be (or date, if you just can’t put yourself in her Manolo Blahnik shoes) the hip young fashion designer or her dolled-down doppelganger? Her action figure looks like one of those women who take their glasses off in old movies to encourage the male lead to exclaim, "Why, you’re beautiful!" I also wonder what kind of actions the figure will be able to perform. I’ll bet it can schedule meetings, make random sales forecasts, and perhaps even fire other action figures like that perpetual slacker Barbie. Do you think it will have a voicebox? A programmable voicebox? The mind boggles at the possibilities.
Let’s assume you really want a "business professional action figure" sitting on your desk, reminding you that your mother wanted you to go to law school. What’s it worth? According to the rules, the approximate retail value of the prize is $787.88, and, although that doesn’t seem at all approximate, subtracting $399 for Office 2004 shows that your action figure will cost $388.88. That’s one pricey doll! But at least it will sort of look like you. And just think of how having your own business professional action figure will help break the ice at cocktail parties.
(Tip to Microsoft: preview your Web pages in Macintosh Web browsers, since the rules page looks terrible in all the browsers I tried. Oh, and while you’re at it, the light grey text on a white background on the main sweepstakes page is almost impossible to read.)
Of course, the sweepstakes is a publicity stunt, so if you win, you must agree that Microsoft can use your name, likeness, hometown, and biographical information (and presumably the name, likeness, hometown, and biographical information of Mini You as well). It’s a bad thought. You could get in touch with your inner suit, and anti-Microsoft zealots can get in touch with you.
All I can say is that, since I actually have a personalized action figure created for me by hand and presented to me at Macworld New York by the good folks at Power On Software, if you’re going to get an action figure, you want one that will impress your friends, not one that worries about month-end budget numbers and corporate reports. I’m extremely proud of mine, and although I’m undoubtedly biased, I think it’s a remarkable likeness. Well, except for the muscles.