Microsoft has just completed the purchase of Nokia: the only company that was all in on building Windows Phone devices. To celebrate this occasion, Microsoft has released a new ad. Laughably ironic, Microsoft is painting itself as the underdog. More than that, they are juxtaposing themselves against Apple. Microsoft is the cool and scrappy countercultural niche player for the people who don't want to just follow the crowd. Apple is the grey, soulless establishment for people who have no imagination and just do what is expected. This is all a play on Apple's famous 1984 ad. As much as companies like Microsoft want to catch the zeitgeist of that ad, they never can. Here's why:
Below are three ads. The first is Apple's original 1984. The second is the Super Bowl ad from Motorola for the ill-fated Xoom tablet. The third is Microsoft's new ad for Nokia's Windows Phone offerings. Each uses black and white to depict the established competition, and color to depict themselves. Motorola makes a point to show the establishment as Apple religious fanatics in white, monk-like robes and white earbuds. The implications couldn't be more obvious. Watch all three ads and I will be back with a bit of commentary.
My first observation is the most obvious. It would be nice if Apple competitors showed a little originality. It seems the only way to depict the cool niche versus the uncool establishment is the way Apple did it. Here's a tip: If you're blatantly copying someone else's cool thing, then you're not cool. You are just a wannabe. There is so much irony in what Motorola and Microsoft did. On the one hand, they are telling people not to follow the Apple crowd, On the other hand, they are saying that they are cool like Apple because they made ads just like Apple.
Second, Apple's ad was taking a shot at Microsoft's corporate, bland hegemony. Microsoft and IBM really did have a corporate, bland hegemony. For the most part, people didn't use those PC compatibles because they liked them. They used them because that was all that was offered. In most cases, it still is. 30 years later, Microsoft is still making its living with corporate PCs running Windows and Office. They are still not the computers people want, but the computers people think they have to use. What Apple provided was something people would want to use versus the prison of bland they were in.
That same message cannot be used against Apple. It is fundamentally non-applicable. Apple products do not represent the bland establishment. They represent the popular majority. There is a huge difference between the two. Apple makes the products people purposely buy as opposed to the establishment. When people had a choice, they chose Apple. People love their Apple products. They might actually be fanatical about them. They pay more for them in the face of cheaper alternatives. They go out of their way to get them.
Apple products are anything but bland. They are exciting. Nothing moves the tech industry forward like a new Apple product. Nothing! Apple represents the state of the art and the height of design and fashion. It is both fad and timeless. It is that which everyone copies. In 1984, there were not any viable alternatives to the IMB PC powered by Windows. Apple presented itself as the better alternative. Today, Apple is the popular majority.
Motorola comes along as one of many alternatives in the market. They did not invite people to try something better. Apple users were not locked in a prison of zero options. Motorola just invited people to try them because they were not Apple. It was not just anti-establishment, but anti-popular. Their message was to not use the thing that the masses enjoy. Rather, use this other thing that is not popular. The lack of popularity is what makes you cool. Having come full-circle, that is also Microsoft's message.
My final observation is that Nokia, Microsoft, and Motorola are three of the biggest names in the history of tech. Microsoft is a convicted monopolist. Nokia was the only name in cheap phones worldwide. And Motorola's Razr was the trendsetter just before the iPhone. Today, Motorola has been twice sold. Nokia sold its soul and business to Microsoft. And Microsoft barely qualifies as an underdog in smartphones and tablets.
All of these companies are trying to beat Apple by becoming Apple. Microsoft lost the last several years of their existence in an attempt to become Apple. Motorola tried to revive itself by presenting a tablet that could hardly be distinguished from the iPad of its day. Nokia joined the Apple race by ditching Symbian, and picking up Microsoft's answer to iOS. Now watch those ads again and shake your head at the bankruptcy that is the state of the anti-Apple crowd.