Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Can I Borrow a Meme? Microsoft's New Ad Echos the Election

Maybe I was a little harsh when I suggested that Microsoft is irrelevant. Listening to Leo Laporte's TWiT podcast, I was struck by how thoroughly Leo and his merry band of nerds discuss Microsoft's recent ads. They are after all the same tech journalists who talk about nothing but technology, so in that respect, Microsoft has hit its real target quite effectively. 

Another thing that struck me when listening to Leo's podcast was the tone of the new commercial where the panelists agree that Microsoft sees Apple as elitist. That is indeed how Microsoft contrasts itself with Apple. Apple's "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads are fairly simple, a young hipster represents the Mac and a stiff middle aged man in a cheap suit represents the PC. Microsoft's new ad turns that idea on its head with the "PC" guy introducing all of the "common" people who use PCs. The message couldn't be more clear—Macintoshes are for elitists, PCs are for real people.

That's not the first time we've seen this argument made in an advertisement. In fact, we are seeing this argument in John McCain's ads against Barack Obama. Just about every McCain ad and every utterance from every pundit is calling Obama an elitist. It's the exact same argument you are seeing in the new Microsoft ad—Microsoft has just been more subtle about it. 

Unfortunately for McCain, he is not the first person to try this argument. Hillary Clinton made the same argument against Obama in the primaries and lost. Fortunately for McCain, that argument did work to a certain extent for Hillary as was able to close the gap between Obama and herself using that same argument. McCain also benefits from the fact that the elitist argument has been a successful one for Republicans in the past. George W. Bush used that argument against John Kerry and his father used it successfully against Michael Dukakis.

In the end, all politicians tell the people that they are one of them. The most successful politicians are usually the ones who make the most people believe in "I'm just like you" argument. It's a compelling emotional argument. And it's the reason why every politician styles himself as an outsider—fighting for you against the "establishment" in which they have entrenched themselves. Really, it was only a matter of time before some computer company figured out this moldy, hypocritical argument and used it to promote themselves. Congratulations Microsoft, you've gone where everyone has gone before.

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