I AM the nigger.
Singer of songs,
Softer than fluff of cotton…
Harder than dark earth
Roads beaten in the sun
By the bare feet of slaves…
Foam of teeth… breaking crash of laughter…
Red love of the blood of woman,
White love of the tumbling pickaninnies…
Lazy love of the banjo thrum…
Sweated and driven for the harvest-wage,
Loud laugher with hands like hams,
Fists toughened on the handles,
Smiling the slumber dreams of old jungles,
Crazy as the sun and dew and dripping, heaving life of the jungle,
Brooding and muttering with memories of shackles:
I am the nigger.
Look at me.
I am the nigger.
Coming from the two-time Pulitzer winner and civil rights advocate Carl Sandburg, this is not a slur but high praise. An appreciation.
Indeed, appropriation of enemy’s words to steal their ammunition is a time honored tactic of all manner of insurgents.
Apple Thinking Different
Here’s how Apple repositioned its then-un-cool brand as a community unable to play along with the mainstream Wintel crowd in the now-iconic “Think Different…. Here’s To The Crazy Ones” video that first ran on Sept, 28 1997:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
A decade later, the clever Apple community (re)appropriated Apple’s own words to mock the company’s App Store application authorization policies in their own video:
Microsoft Thinking Same
Appropriating enemy’s words works. And there’s no company better at appropriating what works elsewhere than Microsoft. So Microsoft finally decided to pivot on Apple’s framing of Windows in its long-running “Get A Mac” ads with its own “I’M A PC” videos:
Why not embrace the “PC” label your enemy stuck on you and show everyone how the “crazy ones,” the “misfits,” and the “troublemakers” can and do in fact use a “PC.” Can Microsoft actually transform the nebbish PC guy in “Get A Mac” ads we’ve come to laugh at into a bearded, cool guy who “doesn’t wear a suit”?
The $300 million question
The new ads are part of Microsoft’s multi-channel “Windows. Life Without Walls” campaign. In explaining the new ad campaign Bill Veghte, SVP of Microsoft’s Online Services & Windows Business Group, says Windows has become ubiquitous and “Because of that ubiquity, it’s become so practical, some of that magic, some of that emotional connection has been lost.” The campaign is an attempt to make Windows (specifically) Vista exciting (again), because “Windows enables people to live a life without walls,” Veghte says.
The ad agency behind “Windows. Life Without Walls” is Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Their principal tactic in a number of recent ad campaigns has been the notion of perception reversing. In the Burger King campaign I Am Man for example, CP+B targeted the under-30 male demographic and told them it was OK to eat meat, like manly men do. Just like Apple was reassuring its own user base in troubled times that they were crazy-good to use the “non-mainstream” Mac, Microsoft is now telling its customers (who have been recently “de-positioned” by Apple) that it’s OK to be Windows users. It is, in other words, appropriating the enemy’s words (“I’m a PC”) to fight back against itself.
Can reality be reversed by perception?
Therein lies Microsoft’s problem. Perception reversing by appropriating your enemy’s words can work only if your insurgency has an identifiable goal. Witness Apple which effectively used its insurgent status to barge into the consumer desktop, digital music and cellphone businesses and changed them in alignment with users’ shared aspirations.
Microsoft, one of the most lucrative monopolies ever, however, is no insurgent. Its enemy is smaller, cooler, better liked, more nimble, more creative and more aligned with users. Apple, a company that once abruptly dropped the world’s best-selling media player (iPod mini) in favor of a brand new one (iPod nano), can quickly change the rules of the game and leave Microsoft targeting yesteryear’s campaign, again.
So Microsoft has to not only show that “it’s OK to use Windows” but tell us why it’s better and show us a goal that we can all identify with that the enemy cannot provide.
That’s a tall order to fulfill, likely to take more than $300 million. We’ll be watching.