Marketing has long since ceased shilling the virtues of a product. It is now about conjuring an ethos, then associating a product with that idea. If you want to get a sense of how to do that spectacularly wrong, you need look no further than Microsoft.
Witness its latest abomination, a Windows Phone ad in which a wedding party descends into chaos after iPhone and Android users exchange barbs. Amidst the ensuing food-fight madness, two attractive wait-staff—the reception was in the church, apparently?—comment on how the fight is futile because… Windows Phone! It’s a thing that exists! And may or may not have features you want! We don’t really know, because they don’t say. As a friend on Twitter pointed out, even their legal disclaimers are weird: “Do not attempt” appears beneath the nuptial brawl. Uh, thanks Microsoft, I’ll keep that in mind.
In marketing terms, the ad fails impressively because the only benefit of Windows Phone appears to be that it is not an iPhone and it is not a Galaxy. There is literally no other reason given to purchase the phone other than appealing to that age-old consumer desire to manifest individuality by favouring one mass-produced gizmo over another—a fact the writers of the ad apparently don’t realize is the very thing they’re making fun of. It’s all utterly baffling, especially because the phone being advertised is actually rather good.
Watching the ad, though, it was hard not to think back to the most recent iPhone ad, a spot that many people have called a return to form. This most recent 60-second clip simply features a rapidly edited selection of people from all over the world taking photos with their iPhones, and ends with the quite true fact that the iPhone is the most widely used camera in the world.
As advertising, it’s brilliantly effective, for the same reasons it’s also annoying and offensive. Apple’s ad “works” because it sutures its product into a representation of contemporary life. Each of the “random” moments depicted is a thing Apple’s target market can relate to: snapping pictures while travelling, Instagramming a latte, recording one’s kids, stopping for a moment of creativity amid the grey glut of life—all while the quintessential Apple ad music that perfectly straddles a line between happy and melancholy twinkles in the background.
It’s so disarming because its emotional pull produces an empty space in the viewer: here is modernity, and you just need one last thing to take your place in the midst of life’s pleasures. It is modern marketing crystallized in that it creates an association between the product and the well-lived life by saying almost nothing at all, relying on the seductiveness of images to do all the talking.
Microsoft’s ad clearly fails, but in doing so, calls attention to the insidiousness of advertising, its basic reliance on colonizing the processes of being an individual. Apple’s ad relies on the same principle, but because it’s good, all it must do is curl its alluring outstretched finger and beckon. Given the choice as a citizen rather than a consumer, I’d take Microsoft’s spectacular failure in a heartbeat.