Just two weeks after Microsoft (MSFT) announced an innovative marketing partnership with News Corp.'s (NWS) Fox Network, the software giant has pulled its sponsorship of the deal's centerpiece: a 30-minute, commercial-free variety show by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, which was to promote the new Windows 7 operating system. Microsoft cited problems with the content of the show, which was supposed to air on Fox at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 8.
"We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show based on the audience composition and creative humor of Family Guy," wrote a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement. "But after reviewing an early version of the variety show, it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand."
The spokesperson declined to elaborate, except to say that Microsoft will continue to advertise on Fox and Family Guy, and that other parts of the deal—including a 12-week college tour featuring Windows 7 and Family Guy-themed events—remain intact. Family Guy, the Fox cartoon created by Macfarlane, draws a large audience and this year was nominated for an Emmy for Best Comedy series. But it is known for a raunchy sense of humor and a willingness to push the limits of tastefulness. Earlier this year, MacFarlane wrote an episode taking a humorous approach to abortion, which Fox refused to air.
On October 13, Fox and Microsoft jointly issued a press release about the upcoming variety show, which would have both live and animated segments and went by the working title, "Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show." According to the release, the program would "deliver simplicity for viewers—no commercial ad time, no network promotions, and no commercial breaks—and instead will feature unique Windows 7-branded programming that blends seamlessly with show content." It went on to say it would "bring the old Texaco Star Theater-style sponsorships into the 21st century," referring to the live variety show from the 1940s and '50s, which featured songs and skits about the Texaco brand.
A broken show link on Windows 7 siteThe show was to be part of Microsoft's massive, multimillion dollar campaign to launch Windows 7, which includes several television spots, online videos, and live events featuring Microsoft executives.
On Win741.com, Microsoft's Windows 7 site aimed at students, an image remained as of Monday evening, Oct. 26, of Family Guy characters Brian and Stewie sitting in front of a laptop computer. But the link to a video clip from the upcoming show no longer functioned. In the clip, which is still available on YouTube, Stewie tells Brian he's "putting Windows 7 through its paces." Brian responds by pestering him with a list of the operating system's features. Stewie replies that he's on Twitter: "Look, see I just said, 'I am twittering'."
Fox representatives declined to give an official response. But a source at the network says that the special will still air and will involve another "integrated partner"—an advertiser whose messages would will be worked into the content, leaving the program commercial-free.
While they love the idea of integrating brands and products into popular TV shows, advertisers don't always consider the implications, says Brian Terkelsen, president of connectivetissue, who has managed brand integrations for Mars, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble at Publicis-owned MediaVest USA. "You need to go into it with a very open mind. Compromise is a huge part of the equation. We as marketers don't compromise on our 30-second spots…this new world necessitates a different approach for Microsoft."