Marketing @Microsoft, Kimye, and Shark Tank: Context and Consistency

The Day The UI Guy Lost It

Context and consistency shape our perceptions, make or break markets, and subsequently shape our purchasing decisions.

Don’t believe me? Follow me down this rabbit hole, if you would:

Seemingly random idea #1: Microsoft’s marketing is drunk at the wheel

Did no one vet Microsoft’s newest marketing campaign? No viewer testing, first?

Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” happily caps the Microsoft tablet ads.

If you’re like me, you might be troubled at the context of the ad. Specifically, that you’d need to be brave to want to purchase one (happily pointed out by Sara Bareille’s lovely and memorable voice).

Better still Microsoft preemptively sub-texted the ads to combat the “Oh, a Microsoft tablet? You must be brave…” idea by unleashing a series of “Honestly” print advertisements (the song goes, “Honestly I wanna see you be Brave”).

Microsoft Honestly Campaign

I don’t exactly want to play Russian Roulette with my technology purchases. The whole marketing campaign reeks of flop sweat. Why?

People buy things that do things they like and asking people to like you is a sure-fire way to get people to not like you.

Honestly, I LOVE the Metro interface; Microsoft could easily market it on Apple’s level (and have). The Surface is damn cool. It’s got great features, great appeal. Why haven’t I bought one? Their marketing – and by extension, pricing, distribution, network control, hardware and software control – reeks of desperation and two bad assumptions.

  • Assumption #1: Everybody has high-speed, ubiquitous Internet access. (Ever tried using Windows 8 with a cellular hotspot connection? Omg…)
  • Assumption #2: Everybody who uses Microsoft products is doing so “for business”. Creatives use Apple. (Blatantly untrue, but they aren’t helping themselves).

Take a moment and compare the “Honestly” ad above to the “What’s Your Verse” ad for the iPad Air:

If you don’t recognize the voiceover, it’s Robin Williams from 1989’s Dead Poets Society.

By the way, did you even notice an iPad in that commercial? Get a cleanly edited marketing shot of the user interface, the bezel, the edges? Or did you notice people actually doing things while the iPad was almost always invisible? A necessary component to what was happening, albeit far from the main focus?

Robin’s voiceover was even keenly chosen to knock “business” (“these are noble pursuits”). Apple is implying that you need equipment that helps you create and appreciate art.

Contrast this to the “Honestly” ad. We have the main focus as the device. We have an office. We have an older, male, white office worker – the head of company procurement. “I couldn’t find a reason NOT to purchase it.”

Could we have two more diametrically opposed messages? C’mon now. It’s not like Microsoft can’t do it right, check this out:

Holy crap! What kid DOESN’T want a huge interactive screen they can “paint” on, and print out their creations, and show their friends, their mom… video chat with their dad in real time. I saw that ad and ran to Best Buy the next day to try it out. To their credit, the paintbrush stylus exists and it was right in the next aisle.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is getting blasted in the news for killing off support for Windows XP – an operating system first released in 2001, leaving bank ATMs, stubborn small business owners, and hundreds of “installed by floppy-disk” Quickbooks users in the lurch. Think about that for a moment – Microsoft is getting blasted for TELLING GEEZERS TO UPGRADE THEIR DAMN COMPUTERS ALREADY.

Compare and contrast this to the fact that they just released a free version of OneNote (arguably the best note-taking software ever) for PC, Mac, Tablet, etc… effectively threatening Evernote’s market dominance for the first time in years. What did anyone say about that? Nothing. I found 2 news stories the day it happened, along with side-links to the XP story.

Add it all together and you get Microsoft simultaneously positioned as one of the most amazingly adept software companies on the face of the earth suffering from some of the most irritatingly inept marketing. For god’s sake, people are still complaining about Office’s ribbon. Why?

Microsoft effectively powers most of humanity’s computing needs. When your market is that large, it’s sort of hard to market to anyone. Microsoft’s big-picture market is literally all of humanity. You try marketing to humanity sometime. It’s this inconsistency which fuels marketing blunders.

Whittle down to individual products or categories and you can specialize and focus a bit more, but they’re getting their markets confused. Tablets? That’s Star Trek level cool; it really shouldn’t be that hard.

Seemingly random idea #2: We build our own demons (and heroes)

I generally suspect that much of the outrage over the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West Vogue cover has to do with the fact that we kinda wish they really weren’t influencers of our culture. But when more people can name the Kardashians than their 3 favorite scientists – we get what we deserve.

Keeping Up With The Cardassians

Here again, the context that these two are somehow “influencers of culture” is irritating in the same way that Effie Trinket is the pinnacle of Capitol society in The Hunger Games. Yet, who is it that we consistently talk about in entertainment magazines, the news, websites, twitter, social media, etc? Effie Trinket and her modern-day equivalents.

If you find Effie less innocuous and more irritating, you’re likely to cancel your subscription to Vogue. On the other hand, if you find Effie a forgivable extrapolation of her society’s creation, you’ll shrug it off.

Who’d have been the braver choice for a Vogue cover in my opinion? George Takei. He even has his own fragrance line called, you guessed it, Eau My.

George Takei is exceedingly consistent (and brilliant) at placing our culture’s issues in contexts that we can discuss, evaluate, share, and rally for or against.

Because I learned about the issue from George Takei’s Facebook page (having somehow missed that day in school I guess), I made a trek to the Japanese-American Internment Exhibit on Amanche at History Colorado. After visiting, I also then supported George’s Allegiance musical crowdfunding campaign.

One Facebook post led to a history lesson which led to contributing to a Broadway Musical. How’s that for influencing culture?

Of course, as a Star Trek fan, I’m not exactly unbiased about George Takei’s role as a cultural influencer:

Nick and George Takei

Seemingly random idea #3: Shark Tank is destroying Entrepreneurship

I have long rallied against the idea of teaching Entrepreneurship = seeking venture capital. For that reason, I believe Shark Tank is everything that’s wrong with Entrepreneurship.


Entrepreneurship, particularly when strongly associated with “The American Dream”, is the idea that anyone can build something kick-ass from scratch and make a living from it. When you pervert that idea into “I’ve got an idea, so now I’d better go beg a bunch of rich people to invest in me” – you cheapen the concept of Entrepreneurship. To be fair, Shark Tank occasionally gets it right, but there’s a lot of value in bootstrapping when compared to begging rich people for cash.

Back in the day (before Shark Tank) you had to go pitch Walmart or QVC to buy your idea. You’d get screwed, because they had the networks with leverage and could negotiate unreasonable deals from you all day long.

The context of Entrepreneurship and Begging being paired together makes my skin crawl. But because seeking venture capital is consistently taught in Colleges of Business and business schools as the only way to go, it’s not going to change in our business culture any time soon.

So, I say again: context and consistency shape our perception of the world (and by extension our purchasing habits).

What things are you consistent at? Do they get you the kind of attention you want?

What context are you being evaluated in? “Just another (so and so)”?

Change the context. Change what you’re consistent at. Change the game.