Microsoft's much-anticipated advertising campaign, expected to be a counter to withering Apple attacks on its most important product, debuted...

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Microsoft’s much-anticipated advertising campaign, expected to be a counter to withering Apple attacks on its most important product, debuted on network television Thursday night.

The 90-second spot, featuring Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld in a shoe store, was, in the assessment of more generous viewers, humanizing. Others weren’t so kind.

“It really came off as old and unfunny, not hip and cool, and it didn’t really engage people in any way, especially not the crowd that they’re trying to take back from Apple,” said Adam Cagle, partner and managing director of 689 Design, a Long Beach, Calif., ad agency, who saw it during the National Football League’s season opener.

The ad is the first salvo of a broader Windows-focused campaign by hotshot Miami agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Microsoft is reportedly spending $300 million on the effort to reintroduce the Windows brand, tarnished by Apple’s acclaimed and effective “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign.

Apple, which sells integrated hardware and software, has seen recent sales grow faster than the Windows PC industry, which is dramatically larger and has many players, complicating the branding task for Microsoft and Crispin.

“It’s always been a Catch-22 for the company,” Cagle said.

Like Seinfeld’s eponymous sitcom, the initial ad was, in many ways, about nothing. But it is the first in a series, so it could be setting the stage for a longer narrative.

Seinfeld encounters Gates in a discount shoe store, Circus Shoes, in a mall. They engage in some idle banter:

Seinfeld: “Ever wear clothes in the shower, Bill?”

Gates: “Never.”

Seinfeld: “You’re dressed and you’re clean. Open the door, go about your business.”

The scene is chuckle-worthy and positions Gates — Microsoft personified to many people — as a sort of regular guy out looking for a deal on shoes.

It showcases Gates’ dry wit and sense of humor, which he displayed in a video earlier this year lampooning his last day as a full-time Microsoft employee.

“On the plus side, it’s lighthearted and vague, which is nice for MS,” Mike Doherty, president of Seattle ad firm Cole & Weber United, said via e-mail. “As much as an ad can, it gives Microsoft a very different and more human tone … I guess.”

But Doherty and several other observers couldn’t see how it played as a counter-strike to the Apple campaign.

“We didn’t understand what shoes, the big top and Jerry Seinfeld had to do with Microsoft,” he said.

Eventually, the ad turns its focus to Microsoft’s products:

Seinfeld: “You know, I imagine over the years you’ve mind melded your magnum Jupiter brain to those other Saturn ring brains at Microsoft.”

Gates: “I have.”

Seinfeld: “Just wondering, are they ever going to come out with something that will make our computers moist and chewy like cake so we can just eat ’em while we’re working? If it’s yes, give me a signal. Adjust your shorts.”

Gates gives a little hip shake.

Seinfeld: “Oh, I knew it!”

The ad ends with the words “The Future” and “Delicious” flashed on the screen, followed by a Windows logo.