Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of marketing innovation.
The internet hates ads. Hates them. But it loves ads for new gadgets.
The internet invented ad blockers to stamp them out, it cries out in one voice if it suspects it’s being sold to, and it has been usurping the traditional model of showing people stuff they might want to spend money on for years.
Traditional advertisers have shunned marketing norms and tried to reinvent the ad as we know it. In a bid to circumvent the angry mob, the advertising industry leaps forward, finding new ways to deploy humor and sex to sell you products.
The festival of advertising known as the Super Bowl is now watched as much for the new ads as it is for the football.
That’s what makes Microsoft’s ad for the Surface Studio really interesting. For the first time in a long time, a product is being sold on its merits, not on a catchy jingle or a good-looking person wearing scanty clothes.
Here it is below. Watch it, then keep reading.
It’s beautiful, right? Sweeping lights; dark scenes turning into light and colorful spaces; small pieces forming part of an inspirational whole; BOOM! Explosions! Inception noises! In the first 40 seconds, we see something come together that took Microsoft years to make.
It’s elegant in its complexity. Then when the hinge is engaged and the whole machine swoops down to serve the mythical protagonist of the video, that’s when the goosebumps start. New peripherals, new ways to use our tired, old machines: a new era for personal computing. It culminates in an epic symphony of creativity, and appeals to the creator in all of us.
Today I’ve watched this ad about five times, for the sake of it. I didn’t have to write anything about it, I didn’t tweet anything about it. I just watched to watch. I watched someone market something to me because I liked the way it made me feel. And that’s what got me thinking: Microsoft is manipulating me. And it’s manipulating you too.
It’s worth mentioning that profit is not a dirty word. Ads are how companies convince people to buy things, which in turn make them money, which is ultimately why they exist. So when I say we’re being manipulated, I don’t mean it in a scary, Josie and the Pussycats-reboot kind of way. All advertising is manipulation, obviously, but this one is the best I’ve ever seen, and it all comes down to the choice of song.
For those who didn’t have a childhood, it’s called Pure Imagination. Written in 1971 for the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it was first heard when the titular character, Mr Wonka, takes the cast through the 'Chocolate Room': a candy forest with flowing chocolate rivers and waterfalls.
“Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three,” Wonka tells his assembled guests, before breaking into one of the most inspirational songs that marketers have ever heard.
Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly wrote Pure Imagination specifically for the 1971 Wonka film. What they wrote was a work designed to inspire more than just children in a chocolate wonderland. Take a look at these lyrics, for example:
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There's nothing to it
Microsoft with its Surface Studio wants to appeal to the world-changers. The creatives. The artist inside of every one of us. That is the subtle manipulation. We don’t know whether the Surface Studio is just another all-in-one that costs a little too much, what we know so far is that we’re meant to be inspired.
That’s why we can’t stop watching it. Because we want to be inspired. We want to trust that someone will let us hop in a boat on a river made of chocolate and take us to the future in a blinding flash of color and noise.
Microsoft doesn’t want you to remember that you’ve belted your head on its keyboards for years trying to get Windows to update faster. It doesn’t want you to remember the time you were writing a letter and perhaps needed help with that. It wants you to think of it as a whole new entity.
The subtle reinvention of Microsoft is well underway, right before our eyes. Instead of talking about crap phones and its services business, Microsoft is talking about altered reality and creative vision. Microsoft wants to be about the future in the here and now.
At least that’s what it wants you to think with the 2 minute, 13 second introduction to the Surface Studio, at least. The idea of the future is something companies have been trying to tap into for years.
Take this little ditty from US-based Mexican fast food vendor, Chipotle, which used a Fiona Apple rendition of Pure Imagination to tell you that it’s not like the rest:
Or what about this brief stab from MasterCard about how we’re all kids in a candy story in the future of commerce:
Everyone’s at it.
So when you watch the Surface Studio ad again, remember that you’re being sold the future, set against the backdrop of a shiny new computer.