Today I saw the new “Windows 10” commercial for the fourth or fifth time. As is always the case with Microsoft commercials, I was very annoyed. Why be annoyed? You might ask. It’s nothing new; just Microsoft selling their latest operating system.
You’ll have to forgive me: I’m in the IT business. So when I hear that your children will have their lives changed by the new operating system, I know it’s well constructed ad copy (crap). Yes someday a smile may allow you to log on to your machine. But no one’s life will be changed by Windows 10. You see most new operating systems include very superficial changes. The apps you’ve always used, the ones that will be part of your “changed” life, are basically the same. So you’ll be experiencing a new and better excel which is the same as it was a year ago. Children will write exciting and vastly improved school assignments using a Word that is basically the same as it was in the last three versions of Windows.
I suppose that some of you are disturbed. The concept of “The Ad” is sacrosanct in American society. How could an uplifting, well-funded, color coordinated, professional ad from Microsoft, for God’s sake, be deceptive? Microsoft represents the world of computers to most people. Notice that I used the word deceptive, not “lie”. That’s the really clever thing about commercials: They don’t tell you lies, they just dodge reality and imply the ability to bring about positive lifestyle changes they can’t deliver. Who can argue with a phrase like “The human way to do”? It sounds good and means nothing.
The point is that, as many ads do, this one tells you nothing about the superiority of a given product over other similar products. More to the point, they tell you nothing about anything that their product can or can’t do.
What’s the harm? you might ask; deception is an advertising tradition. Here’s what I see as the problem: the free market system allows the most superior product to succeed; that has always been the basis on which it has been defended by staunch capitalists. So what happens when you can’t tell which the best product actually is? Worse yet, what happens when you can’t really tell what a product does in the first place?
Why do we listen? Why do allow ourselves to be manipulated?
The phrase, “The medium is the message” was introduced by Marshall McLuhan in his most widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964. McLuhan said that a medium affects society based on its own characteristics and less by the actual content. Translated into characteristics of our Windows 10 ad, the television commercial (the medium) IS the message. We are not responding to information regarding the product, we are responding to the fact that our T.V. is telling us something, something that must be important.
I will admit that this is very abstract concept, one it took me a while to wrap my head around. But it really is quite profound and bears directly on my distaste for empty meaningless advertisements. For those who are not interested in the world of scholarly discourse, I will do my best to demonstrate what is done to us by advertisements.
Through years of being pounded by flashing, colorful images, we have been forced listen and pay attention to advertisements; we’ve been convinced that there is some substance to what passes across our T.V. screens. Even if we don’t buy “Windows 10” or buy Miller light right after seeing a Budweiser commercial, we still consider the information coming out of our screen as important. That’s true even if the information we hear is meaningless or completely dishonest. We file it away because we have been conditioned that way.
By allowing the medium to be the message we give advertisers enormous control over our decisions. We trust that we are supposed to at least consider what we are seeing and hearing. The repetitive deployment of ads helps to drum them into our minds by osmosis.
Companies like Microsoft make many of our decisions for us. Would you be interested to know that a recently as fifteen years ago there was more than one operating system. At the end of the last century Microsoft has managed to put a number of competitors out of business. This is not only in the OS arena, but computer languages and spreadsheets. So much for fair competition.
And now Microsoft will use the message in the medium of television to convince you to buy Windows 10. You see, even though there are no other operating systems for PCs and laptops, people have become independent thinkers, just enough to avoid buying the latest operating system, due to disasters like Vista and, in my opinion, Windows 8.
If there is a “message” in the medium of this blog, it would be that questioning what you hear and see is essential to protecting yourself from a predatory business community. Ask yourself if you believe that Microsoft has your best interests at heart.