Microsoft Announces New “Chief Creative Officer” Position

The software behemoth appoints a 13-year veteran to a new position, meant to oversee ad relationships.

Gayle Troberman

Microsoft, a company always marked by bizarre and haphazard marketing, appears to be attempting a turnaround: Today, the appointed Gayle Troberman, a long-time marketing director at the company, to the grand-sounding, newly created position of “Chief Creative Officer.”


According to Ad Age, Troberman, who’s been at Microsoft for 13 years, will now be overseeing the company’s relationships with advertising houses, which already includes WPP and Crispin Porter+Bogusky. Her elevation caps a reshuffling of the marketing department.

Microsoft, for its part, isn’t saying this is part of a big shift, but rather a natural outcome of a “review of business processes.” Not too convincing, right? It seems more likely that Microsoft is trying to bring a more coherent vision to recent marketing efforts that seem baffling from the outside.

Troberman’s new job is a strange one: Few similar companies have c-suite jobs going to “creatives.” (For example, Apple doesn’t even have a chief creative officer.) And the title is one usually reserved for ad agencies–and advertising pros who’ve come-up with successful campaigns in the past. Being a client who buys ad services isn’t nearly the same sort of job.

If Troberman is meant to overhaul Microsoft’s marketing, she’ll have a tough road to hoe. One former VP recently wrote in The New York Times that the company’s ugly, turf-protecting culture that dooms any good idea to failure. (As far as design culture? A very high-profile designer once told us that he refused to work for Microsoft because not a single person with a design background held a VP position or higher–despite there being more than a hundred VP’s at the company.)

And meanwhile, it’s hard to point to any bright spots in Microsoft’s recent ad efforts.

Remember this ad campaign, created by Crispin Porter, which had Bill Gates shopping with Jerry Seinfeld a full ten years after Seinfeld went off air and cost $300 million?


Or this one, by Bradley and Montgomery, which used the specter of gross-out porn to advertise Internet Explorer’s privacy features? (It was almost immediately yanked.)

And who could forget this ad, which seemed to make a joke out of getting excited about Windows 7 (while also trying to get you excited about Windows 7):

The missteps seem to simply be in the culture. Witness this ad, sent to software vendors to promote Windows 386 in 1986:


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The point being: Troberman might very well herald a new age for Microsoft. And maybe in that respect, a company veteran with battle scars from her tenure is the right person, because she’ll know just how far Redmond is from functional.

[Via AdAge]


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.