Here's an idea for Seth MacFarlane, creator of the raunchy cartoon Family Guy on News Corp. (NWS)'s Fox Network: Take the script for the Nov. 8 episode that Microsoft just backed out of as sole sponsor. Find any mention of "Windows 7," cross it out with a pencil, and replace the term with the phrase "Snow Leopard."

If Microsoft (MSFT) is too scared to attach its image behind your off-color show, then there may be no better substitute than its archnemisis, Apple (AAPL).
Unfortunately for Microsoft, the Family Guy blunder comes after a relatively successful roll-out of its new Windows 7 operating system. By yanking its sponsorship of a show whose tastelessness it discovered all too late, Microsoft has squandered its good Windows 7 publicity. (Microsoft got cold feet, Daily Variety reports, after the show's typical jokes about incest and the Holocaust came to light.)

Apple, in fact, doesn't need to respond directly to this error to come out ahead. Even if it doesn't step in to replace Microsoft's sponsorship, the marketing misstep proves yet again the cultural accuracy of Microsoft's dorky, tone-deaf image as personified in Apple's commercials by stiff-suited comedian John Hodgman. Apple's most recent campaign takes aim at Windows 7, hammering the notorious unreliability of Windows and the eternal uncoolness of PCs. You'd have to guess that most Family Guy fans would reflexively identify more with Mac's laid-back cool persona, and that Microsoft would want to win them over.

And that's what must have made Family Guy seem, at first, like such a great marketing match. Microsoft was clearly reaching for younger audiences when it signed on to sponsor next month's special. It would have had the spotlight to itself: No commercials, no annoying network promos, just pure ribald humor, brought to you by the new and suddenly cool Windows 7 operating system. Could there have been a better way for Microsoft to reach those young consumers who might just be swayed to switch to Apple computers? We'll never know for sure.

Microsoft has, however, pleased one bloc of potential Windows 7 consumers: The conservative Parents Television Council, which on Tuesday applauded Microsoft for "waking up to the risk that was posed to its brand by serving as sole sponsor for a Seth MacFarlane special." And in that battle of the PC-vs.-Mac culture war, at least, the PC has accidentally scored a victory.

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