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New Windows 8 Phone ads: Big stars, small ambitions

As rumored, Microsoft begins to release ads for Windows Phone 8. The first two feature Gwen Stefani and Jessica Alba, but not Jay-Z. They're a little predictable.

The terribly harassed mom.
Microsoft/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Stars can be difficult, especially when you do ads with them.

No matter how much you pay them, some like to have input on the scripts. The bigger the star, sometimes the bigger the input. Sometimes, though, the stars just take the money.

So when rumors began to roll that Microsoft was launching Windows Phone 8 with ads featuring Gwen Stefani -- and, as the rumor had it at the time, Jay-Z -- I wondered whether the ads would follow the template of the one pleasant, but slightly pedestrian ad already released.

It featured British TV presenter, Holly Willoughby (embedded at end of post).

Today, Microsoft is unveiling the first two of its big star ads. They feature Stefani and Jessica Alba. And they do, indeed, mirror precisely the Willoughby ad.

Right down to the fact that Alba miraculously uses the Kids Corner feature, just like Willoughby.

Alba is a terribly harassed mom with perfect makeup and not a frown. Although the overturned baby bottle is beautifully art directed.

Stefani is the on-the-go designer who has taste and still writes songs. Though it's SO hard to write songs, you know.

Those hoping that Microsoft would give the iPhone and Nexus a punch in the plexus may be disappointed with this fare.

It's all very nice, but it's all very safe.

You've seen stars in so many ads where they just talk a little and take a lot of money. These are straight-up presenter ads, with the presenter replaced by someone famous.

Will people be stopped dead by these ads? Or do they simply represent the hope that the stardom will rub off on the brand?

It's a start. But some might have wished that the originality of the Windows Phone 8 design was more aggressively reflected in the originality of the ad. It's one thing showing the phone. It's quite another to make the ad memorable.

Still, Microsoft promises that the next ads will feature SNL's Andy Samberg and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, so there might yet be room for at least a little more wit.

With the Nokia Lumia 920 not getting perfect reviews (some people seem fixated on its weight), everything Microsoft does should offer impetus.

It's odd that in a week in which the company restates its essentially corporate credentials with the departure of the colorful Steve Sinofsky, it releases ads that smack faintly of a corporate approval process.

With the launch of Surface, Microsoft has increasingly managed to present itself as a plucky young challenger. These ads, however, smack of a large, familiar corporation.

It's not as if large, familiar corporations can't do great ads. Look at what Samsung has done lately, with no stars at all.