Probably not the kind of "how-to" article title you expected to see, is it?  Nevertheless, I want to give you a short lesson.

Step 1: Build up a stellar brand and either push your competitors out of business or buy them up and leverage their core competencies.

Step 2: Having eliminated all of your competitors and taken control of the market, sit back, enjoy your market dominence, and cut your marketing and advertising budgets to the ground.

Step 3: Ignore the rise of any potential rivals, even those that might take market share away from you.

Step 4: After one rival has emerged as a potential usurper of your market position, do absolutely nothing to stop them.

Step 5: When this new rival starts an ad campaign illustrating how out-of-touch you really are with consumers, jump up immediately and show off your true strength with a highly creative, directly responsive ad campaign.

Step 6: IMPORTANT - When the first 2 ads of your multi-million dollar multi-ad campaign fail to strike a chord, cancel the campaign and try to rebrand it as a teaser to save face.

Every successful company runs the risk of becoming lazy.  Competition disappears, and the challenge to bring in new customers becomes a moot point.  "If you build it, they will come" quickly becomes the mantra of all levels of management, and new competitors find it easier to enter the market with the promise of shaking up the industry.

Microsoft fell into this trap, and they have thus far followed the 6-step plan above perfectly.  They took the market by storm and eliminated all of their competition (we even had an anti-trust hearing a while ago, remember?).  Then Apple started to take market share away from them.  Their Mac versus PC commercials have continued to bolster the ranks of the Apple-fanatics, and hurt Microsoft's market share even more.

This month's release of the imaginative Gates-Seinfeld advertisements looked like a great way to strengthen the Microsoft brand.  As I've mentioned before, great advertising comes way out of left field and leaves you struggling to find more information.  The Gates-Seinfeld ads did that perfectly ... but apparently not fast enough.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a massive re-branding effort.  Well, not really.  What Microsoft announced was that the Gates-Seinfeld "teasers" were really part of a larger campaign meant to reconnect Microsoft with its customers.

...tonight, the Bill-and-Jerry “teaser” ads give way to a new series of television ads that celebrate the diversity and passion of consumers around the world who use Windows to stay in touch with the people, information and ideas that they care about.

The new ads are just a part of this major Windows marketing initiative, all designed around connecting with consumers in meaningful ways throughout their Windows experience – whether buying a PC, using a Windows Mobile device, or living life on the Web.

What Microsoft is doing is responding to criticism for the ads and trying to save face by rebranding the campaign as a whole.  What was meant to be a quirky, on-going back-and-forth between Gates and Seinfeld is being cut short.

Will killing the campaign help to salvage the Microsoft brand?  Probably not.  When you design an ad campaign to show how in-touch you are with customers ... and subsequently cancel it, you just reinforce the competition's message about how out-of-touch you are.  Apple is probably jumping with joy right now.