Microsoft Promoting Office XP’s Usability With Web Campaign

“Clippy” is taking a little time off. The paperclip character, which since 1997 has been popping up to offer largely unneeded assistance to Microsoft Office users, will no longer be a default setting on the company’s newest offering, Office XP.

Since this is good news for users who can’t stand Clippy’s habit of appearing without being asked — often at wildly inappropriate times, like when you’re in the throes of pounding out a story on deadline — Microsoft’s marketing machine sensed an opportunity.

Like its short-lived personal information manager product, “Microsoft Bob,” the Clippy Office Assistant had been devised as a way to make software easier to use, and to encourage consumers to use advanced features. But now, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant says its upcoming Office release has been redesigned to be less confusing and more intuitive, and to offer less intrusive help.

Spreading that message will be a tongue-in-cheek viral Web campaign, designed by New York-based digital design shop kpe and Bellevue, Wash.-based agency Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky. Spending was not disclosed.

The effort, which includes several sites, aims to spread the idea that because Office XP is so easy to use, there’s no longer any need for the Office Assistant as a default option. (Users can turn on “Clippy” should they feel the need.)

“Office XP is so easy to use that Clippy is no longer necessary, or useful,” said Microsoft product manager Lisa Gurry. “New features like smart tags and Task Panes … enable people to get more out of the product than ever before. These new simplicity and ease-of-use improvements really make Clippy obsolete.”

The agencies have devoted a sizable amount of effort to promoting that claim. The site features Clippy’s resume (since he’ll be working less, due to Office XP) as well as animated Flash movies that show Clippy trying to convince users not to use Office XP so he’ll still have a job.

Comic Gilbert Gottfried provides the voice of “Clippy” in the videos.

The site currently also includes a song, “It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter,” in which Clippy croons “since you’ve upgraded to Office XP, you’ve got no use for me.” Additional Flash movies and an interactive game to help Clippy find a new job are also on the way, Microsoft said.

“He’s quite down in the dumps,” Gurry joked. “He has even started his own campaign to try to get his old job back, or find a new one.”

But the effort, which is banking that users refer the site to friends, is not just a way for Microsoft to promote Office XP’s usability features.

Poking fun at itself — in one clip, an irate computer user tells Clippy, “Next to Microsoft Bob, you’re the most annoying thing in computer history!” — also is a slick way to counter perennial complaints that Microsoft requires customers to accept bloated products with features they don’t need. Instead, the self-deprecating effort puts something of a more human face on the software behemoth.

The new campaign precedes a wider, traditional ad and marketing campaign behind Office XP, designed by agency of record McCann-Erickson and slated to launch after the product debuts in May.

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