I am wondering if Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) will ever be capable of wrapping a simple message into a simple commercial. The first Windows Phone 7 (WP7) commercial is an example of Microsoft's intent to pack too many images into a single commercial that ultimately blur the message the company wants to send. There are 28 different scenes in 60 seconds -- some connected, some open-ended. Some are simple. Most are too complex to process in just a few seconds. But if you take the time to watch Really several times, you may view the commercial as a piece of art.

Watching Microsoft's commercials could be a waste of time, and trying to understand them is frequently very difficult. Remember Bill Gates' Shoe Circus commercial with Jerry Seinfeld? On the surface, it was a silly, incoherent communication. However, the commercial carried a very subtle and intelligent tone that ridiculed Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL). To get the message, most of us may have to watch the commercial several times and take the time to think about every scene to understand it. (Another example is here.)

The latest Really commercial that intros WP7 is extremely complex as well. Since I enjoy watching these commercials, I spent a few hours watching, re-watching, and analyzing the ad, and it is clear that there is a lot brainwork in this 1-minute-long skit about wasting time on your cell phone. However, ironically, just like we are wasting time and missing life by focusing on your phones, Microsoft may have missed the goal with this commercial by focusing too much on the downsides of today's smartphones.

The structure
Really is vertically divided into four parts, each about 15 seconds long. The horizontal structure consists of the topics (1) street life, (2) personal relationships, (3) professional life, (4) vacation and leisure time, and (5) personal well-being. Each 15-second part displays a certain number of examples of life with a smartphone in rapid succession.

Part 1
The first part serves as introduction, with somewhat silly messages about vacations -- a woman missing the spectacular lantern floating in Hawaii (this may already raise questions marks, as virtually everyone I talked to wondered what those "strange lights in the sky" were) or a geek on a beach not noticing the pretty girls around him. We are also introduced to the street theme with people drinking coffee and focusing on their phone rather than their break. Personal care (shower, workout) lacks because of the smartphone as well. There are eight examples in 15 seconds (three in street life, two in leisure time, two in personal care, and one in professional life), some of which are just too short to understand. The part ends with the first "Really?" note, when a masseuse forgets she has a patient.

Part 2
The next 15 seconds complete the purpose of showing examples of smartphone use and the "cause" portion of the commercial. There is a clear climactic intent as the music gets faster and the messages turn from silly to negative. Personal relationships are introduced as a dad forgets that he is out with his daughter playing in a park. In a following bedroom scene, we also learn that smartphones may keep you from having sex. Smartphones make you miss out on fun activities, such as the excitement of a roller coaster, and ignore the world around you as you don't even notice that hot coffee (the coffee theme appears to be especially important in this commercial, as it repeats three times) is spilling over your hand. Seven messages in 15 seconds conclude with another "Really?" when a smartphone falls into a urinal and his owner picks it up. The second part has two street-life scenes, three leisure-time scenes, and two examples that relate to personal relationships. The personal relationships introduce drama and turn the topic from funny to angry. So far, we have seen 15 messages in 30 seconds.

Part 3
This is where the "effect" part of the story begins. In eight messages, we see people suffering because of neglect on the job; we see people missing their wedding; we see a family of four on their phones missing dinner time and essential communication; and we see a father missing out on quality time and playing baseball with his son. A woman falls down the stairs at the opera, a guy in a roller coaster misses the thrill of a downhill section, and people bump into each other as they ignore the life that happens around them. There are another eight messages (23 total so far).

Part 4
After 45 seconds, we see the sharp conclusion with a climactic peak, as the previous pre-sex scene, another coffee-spill example, and the father-son-baseball scene are recalled. The commercial breaks with the son throwing the baseball at his father's head, reaching the most angry and negative point in the commercial at 48 seconds. The scene is followed by a perceived question mark and is cooled down by a mother ignoring her toddler. The final message, a dinner scene between a man and woman, brings the resolution and the only positive scene as the man actually packs away his phone and focuses on his obvious date. While the guy may have lost out already by pulling out his phone, the message is that WP7 keeps you connected but brings you back to what matters so you don't miss out on life.

Open questions
OK, so I get it. I think. But did this really require 60 seconds to communicate? Are 28 individual messages in 60 seconds really necessary to explain that smartphones keep us from living life? Many scenes have way too much detail to process in a second or two. It took me a while to notice that the dinner-table scene shows that three members of the family of four are on their phones and not just two. I am still wondering what that strange mirror in the bedroom scene is or if it is a window that is rather awkwardly placed next to the bathroom. The scenes are too short to recognize subtle messages, such as the fact that all people on smartphones have a serious and concentrated expression on their face, while there is a decidedly more friendly tone around them (this changes in the second part of the commercial, where many people get angry).

The commercial plays on cliches of smartphone users today and attempts to be funny by exaggerating scenes. Typical causes of aggravation from using phones are clearly left out, such as people texting and emailing on their phones while driving. The strong exaggeration may have the effect that you either see yourself as one of those people and the entire message is diluted as a result. Strangely enough, it appears that the commercial is squarely aimed at people who already use smartphones but are concerned about the impact the devices have on their life. There is a very negative tone of bad smartphones today -- smartphones that need a savior. However, it seems that we actually enjoy the features of smartphones.

Microsoft was criticized for making the WP7 too similar to already available smartphone platforms. Steve Ballmer recently said that WP7 is different -- and this commercial surely plays this tune. But do we really want something different that essentially does the same thing?

One last note: What's up with those BlackBerrys? Did anyone notice that most of the smartphones in the commercial are BlackBerrys? I was not able to find a single iPhone. Could it be that Microsoft chose to leave iPhones out because of the high loyalty rate among iPhone users?

The bottom line: The commercial is way too complex, really. It's not funny, either. The irony of using a smartphone is in real life, not exaggerated real life, really. If you like commercials, this is one of the more interesting and intelligent ones to watch, but as a sales tool it is a waste of money.


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Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft, which is also a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. This article has been lightly edited. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.