Microsoft To Kill Annoying Paper Clip In Latest Ads

from the Microsoft-has-a-sense-of-humor dept

It’s rare that you see Microsoft actually “laugh” a failure off. However, that’s what it appears to be doing with it’s latest ad campaign. The new campaign will basically make fun of that annoying paperclip thing that shows up in Microsoft Office. The idea is to suggest that the new Office XP is user friendly enough that it doesn’t need the paperclip, but they do a bit of self-deprecating humor for having installed one of the most annoying features in computing history.

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Comments on “Microsoft To Kill Annoying Paper Clip In Latest Ads”

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Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

Oh well, yet another unreadable story due to the fact the New York Times still require a stupid login, nevermind the fact that it always manages to forget who I am and that I cannot be bothered to yet again get another login Id. I miss so many stories, its annoying, but quite frankly I can’t be bothered with their stupid system.

end rant

Raj Patel (user link) says:

Re: Re: NY Times article

Here it is…

April 11, 2001
Advertising: Humor Is at Center of Microsoft’s New Campaign
dd Clippy, Microsoft’s obnoxious on-screen paper clip with the irritating habit of popping up to offer computer help at all the wrong times, to the list of dot-com employees who will soon be searching for new jobs.

Long assailed within the computer industry for routinely adding too many features to its software programs, Microsoft will tacitly acknowledge that criticism today when it starts a Web marketing campaign for its new Office XP software suite that ridicules its notorious Office help system.

The campaign will highlight the claim that the new Office XP software will be easier to use, allowing Microsoft to hide the Clippy feature from view and instead offer help in a less intrusive fashion.

The self-deprecating advertising approach highlights Microsoft’s problem in trying to bolster sales for a new version of a program that in many users’ minds already has too many features.

The anthropomorphic paper clip was initially intended to offer access to an online help system called Office Assistant, first introduced in 1997, in a way that made it more friendly and accessible to nonexpert computer users. The idea of such software “agents” has long been a goal of computer scientists and programmers, but they have largely failed to gain widespread consumer acceptance.

The new “Clippy” campaign, which can be found at, will be a small part of the larger $30 million Office XP campaign. The Clippy site will include e-mail and a variety of “viral” marketing tools that Microsoft hopes users will use to e-mail portions of the ad material ? like songs and presentations animated with Macromedia Flash ? to one another.

The Clippy campaign, which will cost about $500,000, also includes a Web-site-based computer game in which irate users, many of whom have long found the paper clip program annoying to the point of distraction, will finally be able to retaliate by shooting virtual staples, tacks and rubber bands at the animated Clippy figure.

There will be banner ads on all the Microsoft Web sites, including, and the Office site, as well as on media Web sites, to drive traffic to the Clippy site; it is estimated that more than 25 million people will see those banners. Microsoft will also send e-mail to more than five million people on lists the company has compiled.

The viral campaign is intended to be a much lower-key way to reach consumers than a large-scale, big- budget traditional ad campaign. The traditional campaign is to come later, after Office XP is officially introduced in late May. Those ads will be created by the Microsoft agency, McCann-Erickson Worldwide Advertising, part of the McCann-Erickson World Group unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

“The challenge became, how do you connect with so many people who are used to Office and persuade them to take a fresh look at it?” said Greg Shaw, partner at the Bellevue, Wash., office of Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky, the agency that worked on the viral marketing campaign along with KPE, an interactive agency in New York, and Modern Humorist, which operates a humor Web site,

In some of its banner advertisements on Web pages the company will explain that XP, the designation of its new operating system and new version of the Office application suite, actually stands for “ex paper clip.”

Featuring what some would say is the equally irritating voice of the comedian Gilbert Gottfried playing the role of a soon-to-be-out-of-work paper clip program, the ad campaign is built around several animated cartoons.

Tipping the company’s hat to another legendary Microsoft product miscue, at one point a cartoon character of a computer user intones, “Next to Microsoft Bob, you’re the most annoying thing in computer history.”

“You know Bob?” Mr. Gottfried, the paper clip, replies. “He’s a friend of mine.”

The on-screen clip figure, which can take the form of an animated paper clip, a cartoon Einstein, a pet dog or other cartoon characters, failed because it continually popped up on computer desktops at inappropriate times, driving some computer users batty when they couldn’t figure out how to make it vanish.

The Clippy program will still reside in the new Office XP program, and users who feel lonely in its absence will be able to recall it.

Although the campaign is likely to be greeted warmly by many white- collar office workers who have long grumbled about the paper clip, it has worried at least one Microsoft researcher who is most closely credited with being the father of the technology underlying the paper clip.

The researcher, Eric Horvitz, and a small group of Microsoft colleagues did the original development work on the set of technologies that were intended to alert computer users when they were at junctures where they might need specific help in understanding complicated features of Microsoft’s software.

Indeed, while for many computer users the clip soon became an examplar of Microsoft’s heavy-handed and boorish approach to software design, Mr. Horvitz maintains that this happened as a result of a poor carrying out of his original research.

Much of Mr. Horvitz’s research uses an approach known as Bayesian statistics and is intended to alert computer users to information only if it is important enough to interrupt them from their work.

Microsoft has still not given up on the idea of using humanlike software agents to assist its computer users, but there is a new sense of pragmatism at the company, Mr. Horvitz said.

“We found that in portraying a service with an intelligent looking front-end we can sometimes raise expectations too high,” Mr. Horvitz said. “That can lead to disappointment.”

Moreover, the company gives no ground on the issue of whether its Office program has too many features. The problem, Microsoft executives say, is designing technology to let users know that certain features are available and then making the features available in a nonintrusive way.

“We typically find that most of 200 million Office users use only 10 or 15 percent of the product,” said Tom Bailey, a product manager for Office XP. “But it’s a different 10 or 15 percent for each user.”

Clippy will also be featured at events to promote Office XP to be held in major markets. “Maybe he’ll be pulling a latte at Starbucks,” said Mr. Shaw of Shepardson Stern, to suggest that the character was working much less because of the arrival of Office XP. “Microsoft gave us a long leash to come in and have fun with this,” he added.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: NY Times article

Oh sure… now we’re going to get sued for copyright infringement. 🙂 Thanks.

There are a hundred or so “public” username/passwords that work with the NY Times. It’s such a big site and so many people have registrations (or use one of the public ones) that I have no problem using NY Times material. They are generally the only registration-necessary site that I’ll use.

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