Microsoft “I’m a PC” ads are channeling Apple’s “Crazy Ones”

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.

Re-Thinking Different

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.

28 thoughts on “Microsoft “I’m a PC” ads are channeling Apple’s “Crazy Ones”

  1. “80% of people that own computers own a PC.”

    Players who dominate a market with such confidence don’t create $300 million ad campaigns attacking a “lesser” player (with a tenth of the market share), unless they are directly threatened.

  2. Yes, Vista does have a “perception” problem. The “perception” that is a worthless OS when companies such as Intel feel it is not worth the effort to upgrade, and will wait to see what Microsoft produces with Windows 7 tells you everything you need to know!

  3. If Microsoft wants life without walls, why doesn’t it tear down the walls around its campus? It has not examined that faulty, inconsistent logic.

  4. Jim,

    I love when someone criticizes by being nitpicky about irrelevant facts. It only serves to demonstrate that you completely missed the point about the Sandburg poem. First of all, the whole notion that only black people are qualified to comment on the African-American condition is an old, tired one, certainly not to be trotted out in the comments of
    a tech blog. Obviously, Kontra felt that Mr. Sandburg’s status as a literary giant and commentator on civil rights (at a time when it was not fashionable to do so) qualified him to participate in this “appropriation.” While I agree that this may be a debatable point, before you felt free to categorize the work of a man of Sandburg’s stature as “condescension and ignorance,” perhaps you should have taken the time to read the biography that Kontra linked to.

    So let us consider the actual point which was being made, shall we?. I’ve always felt that the best way to combat insults and stereotypes is to re-claim them and re-establish the context in which they are used. As much as I sometimes detest the manifestations of hip-hop culture, I do believe that their use of the word “nigger” is an example, albeit a crass one, of this sort of linguistic re-positioning. One of my most fervent hopes is that eventually progressives and forward-thinkers will seek to reclaim the term “liberal” from those who have managed to re-define it as some sort of anti-American four-letter word. But I only reveal my political leanings in this forum to site another example of the sort of “appropriation” of which I believe Kontra speaks.

    Having said all that, I do feel that what Microsoft is attempting is brilliant. The only problem is, at the end of the day, Vista still sucks, Microsoft still must lug the huge ball-and-chain which is legacy support, and PC manufacturers continue to fight over the razor-thin margins fostered by commodity pricing. And no amount of brand reclamation is going to change any of that.

  5. I went “WHAT” when I saw the Windows: Life Without Walls ad featuring penguins. Time to remind people what the symbol of Linux is …

    The other problem is that people know what using Windows is: an exercise in frustration. It’s hard to spin painful daily reality.

    “Vista’s slow, it’s fat, my software doesn’t work, I can’t get drivers, the User Access Control’s a pain in the ass and my network grinds to a crawl when I play an mp3! What do you call that?”

    “… The Aristocrats!

  6. Did you realize that the reason to run these ads could be to not stop the usage of Apple or paint Apple as uncool BUT to restore Microsoft’s brand image & brand name that has taken a beating due to Apple’s ads.

  7. Michael Teuber,
    I appreciate your deconstruction that underpins the method used to attack an opponent. I call the method Rovian, but I am sure that it has a preexisting history, but Rove seemed to have used it insidiously, expertly, self-servingly, and vindictively in the public sphere that it could not help being exposed to public scrutiny.

    This MS ad looks like an inferior knockoff of Apple’s “Crazy Ones” which spotlights top talent, while MS’s spotlights accomplished talent, less than top talent.

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  9. “The $300 million question”

    Everybody assumes it is a blessing to have a lot of budget. The problem with a high budget is it allows you to avoid real choices, make a mess of it, clean it up (sort of…) and start again. And that over and over again.
    Microsoft is – once again – proving that having a large budget can be very counterproductive.

  10. It’s funny how the ad image with Deepak with the simplified Play icon on his eye makes him looks like a Borg. It’s amazing how easy it is to make a man who in the past seem to be genuine now apparently whole-heartily approves monopoly abuse and consumer deception. I know a few Vista owners who would love to get their hands on that $300 million.

    Apple’s ad makes the PC the more lovable guy despite his shortcomings. In MSFT’s ad you don’t care about or want to be any of those people in the ad – THAT is the fundamental difference between Apple and MSFT.

  11. The Microsoft ad’s arc is
    1. establish that personal identity is the issue “I’ve been made into a stereotype”
    2. establish the wound to the ego “I am not what most people would call hip”
    3. establish specific, though spurious slurs, such as “I wear glasses” which if we accept that our identity is at stake and that Apple is holding us up to ridicule for our eyewear, creates insecurity and resentment, the tools of every half-assed manipulator.
    4. offer irrelevant palliatives associated with Microsoft, “look how many championship rings I have”, “look how big the wedding ring on my finger is” desirable but unrelated to using a PC but which flatter the PC user by association
    5. present Microsoft as the champion and protector of the newly inflamed resentments of its core base of low priced disposable computer buyers. Who, without a pre-existing sense of low self worth, could not be exploited in this way.

    This is shameful in a Jeremiah Wright/Mike Nifong kind of way, using insecurity and resentment to extort adherence from PC adepts, and shameful in a “How embarrassing to be entering into a conversation with a competitor with only 8.7% of your market share.

  12. I’m agree with Jared. When I saw that ad and people said “I’m a PC” I thought “So what?”. After a while you get tempted to start filling in the blank.

    I’m a PC … and I’m not wearing pants. (The Letterman version.)
    I’m a PC … because my company makes me use this boat anchor.
    I’m a PC … for now, but someday I’ll upgrade to a Mac.

    I can’t recall the wording but it reminds me of the Republicans. I think it was the McCain people who were chanting a slogan but it had a pause in it. The Ron Paul people inserted their own amusing chant into the pause.

  13. First Microsoft was for walls, lots of them, now it’s against them. Sounds like Carl Rove is behind the vindictive, limited-view Vista campaign so it is being made to appeal to the core base of Windows users, Rightwingers, to keep them on board.

  14. People who like the new Microsoft ad applaud it for responding to Apple’s TV ads.

    The point is that they’re not responding to Apple’s ads (which makes Microsoft look all the worse… a tacit admission of Vista’s faults).

    Apple’s ads use two characters to present the pros of using Mac OS X versus the cons of using Vista. The Apple ads talk about “Vista” specifically, and the problems with that operating system.

    Microsoft’s ads avoid dealing with the negative Vista issues delivered in Apple’s ads, and instead show a bunch of people who use PCs. Microsoft cannot respond to the allegations presented in Apple’s ads, so they try to divert people from these facts by displaying a group of people who use PCs running Vista as if to say “These people use Vista, so you should too… despite all of the problems with it that are public knowledge.”.

    Also, we have to assume that the people in the Microsoft ad who say “I’m a PC” are actually using Vista, because the word “Vista” is never mentioned. But “PC” is a generic term that stands for “personal computer”, which basically covers all desktop and notebook computers. For all we know these people may be using Windows XP, or Linux, or even Mac OS X ;-)

  15. Mike: “Microsoft has not been ‘de-positioned by Apple”

    That was Microsoft’s depiction of what Apple has done to them.

  16. Not to beat a dead white man, but also, Sandberg by definition can’t “appropriate the enemy’s words” because he is not black. You couldn’t find any African-American literature to prove your point? Lazy banjo pickin’, indeed.

  17. Sorry, but Sandberg’s poem is not “high praise.” It’s condescension and ignorance, cliches and stereotypes. You can’t “redeem” ideas you haven’t critically examined. For one thing: Africans in America are not descended from Africans who lived in “jungles”–people in West Africa do not now and did not then live in “jungles.”

  18. Hmmmm… 330 million for this type of advertising…Hmmmmm

    Wonder how far 330 million would go to either fix Vista or come out with something new and worthwhile?


  19. This is really bad. Capitulating to your smaller enemy because they are getting all the attention. Why not make the products better?

    That is what Apple did. They went from Mac OS 9 (classic) to OS X (UNIX), all the while dragging many a Mac user kicking and screaming into the future, and it worked. Then they made the iPod. Then iTMS (dragging the RIAA kicking and screaming). Then they went to Intel chips. Then they made the iPhone (dragging ATT kicking and screaming, maybe?). Apple didn’t stand still. They took a huge risk with the iPhone that you wrote about in an excellent article a few weeks ago. They *literally* changed the digital landscape. And they are being compensated for that accordingly.

    No commercial will do that for MSFT.

  20. Because something is clogging my ears, I misperceive the audio. I hear “I’m a Pisces”. This seems so appropriate, as the commercial ends with “I’m a Pisces, I fish!”. What else would a piscator do, but fish!

  21. Any marketing I see from Microsoft always confuses me. I don’t understand what they are selling me. What do I DO? The Burger King add is clear: eat meat, specifically the Texas Double Whopper. What am I supposed to do when I see the “I am a PC” ad? I already have Windows! What has changed, what is changing, what do I change? Nothing! (Vista still sucks.)

    This all just feels like some Soviet propaganda, saying how I should be proud of how great the Party is. OK. But what do I DO?

    Apple can easily counter with ads where John Hogdman (the PC character) tries to act hip and cool (say, wearing jeans and planting a garden), and then the Mac character can just say, yeah I run Windows too and wear jeans and grow herbs. (Plus I have a backlit keyboard, iSight camera, run OS X, and come with iLife. And I’m svelt and chicks and geeks dig me.)

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  23. Windows without walls = greenhouse. Don’t throw stones in glass houses.

    The PC is a very very versatile device. A Mac is a very personal computer, it’s highly focussed on the end-user. How ironic.

    Microsoft has not been “de-positioned” by Apple, rather it is Apple that has been playing by the rules of positioning – and, somewhat shockingly, winning.

    Of course, what this latest Microsoft ad really does is re-enforce “PC” as being Windows and not, say, Linux. Interesting.

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  25. Matthew: “Don’t hold your breath.”

    If “Without Walls” = “choice” (as Microsoft has been touting its ability to have multiple partners on PCs/mobile devices/etc offer “choice” based on MS “standards”), then we have already seen that movie against iPod/iTunes and the iPhone. After all, MS promoted “choices” but found itself erecting “walls” around digital music with PlaysForSure and later Zune.

  26. So Microsoft has to not only show that “it’s OK to use Windows” but tell us why it’s better…

    Don’t hold your breath. There are the factors that are holding them back—their need for backwards compatibility, the company’s culture—that prevent them from being better. Unless they let go and change, nothing will happen. You’ll just get more of the same — Vistas.

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