Controlling your story

Microsoft has done away with the quirky ads featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, prompting suspicion that the nigh-nonsensical ad campaign was a flop. But Microsoft spokespeople told the Associated Press that it was always the plan to pull the ads at this time and replace them with ads that actually have something to do with Windows.

Brian Heater at PC Magazine, wrote that the original ad run, which was touted as a $300 million response to Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ads, left a lot of tech writers baffled and angry:

When it finally aired, the spot, which found Bill Gates and the former TV star shopping for shoes at the mall, wasn’t exactly a hit with the technorati. They were baffled. Baffled and angry. They wondered what the thing had to do with Vista…and Apple…and, for that matter, Microsoft. They wondered why it wasn’t, you know, funny.

The new ad campaign, set to debut next week, will be themed “Windows. Life Without Walls” and will feature ads with an assortment of Microsoft employees and celebrities proudly declaring, “I am a PC.”

The New York Times reported on the marketing side of the new ad campaign, quoting a Microsoft marketing manager, David Webster, who told the newspaper, “They’ve made a caricature out of the PC,” which was unacceptable because “you always want to own your own story.”

Ah ha! There’s the nugget I’ve been waiting for. Of course, this is marketing terminology: “owning” your “story.” What it really means is having control of how people think about you, and with Apple constantly telling people what a PC is in its commercials, Microsoft had lost control of what it thinks is its brand — which for them means any computer that’s not a Mac. (Incidentally, I wonder if the world’s Linux users are happy with having Microsoft claim the PC brand. After all, a PC doesn’t have to be running Windows.)

Anyway, about the nugget: This reminds me of things I read about during all that time spent studying literature and literary theory in college. We often talked about minority cultures and minority literatures — feminist and post-colonial theory, as examples. The idea was that, because these peoples or social groups could/did not communicate in the same channels or languages as the majority group, they lost control of their stories. Either that, or their stories never got told in the first place.

Without a “story,” people don’t exist, not in any meaningful way, at least. Our stories define who we are. Think about meeting someone new or going out on a date. You want to learn about the other person. You want to learn their story.

We all have stories. We all have narratives that we tell to other people that we think will give them certain impressions of us. We are all advertising reps doing our best to represent ourselves to our own advantages — putting just the right spin on bad events and emphasizing the things we’re proud of. Doubt me? Think about how you spun that McDonald’s job on your resume and get back to me.

And what happens when you lose control of your story? Think about that rumor that once spread around high school about you. Tell me if you had control of that particular story and how you felt like it defined you.

Stories are important, and the New York Times reminded me of that again today. It reminded me that at heart, we are all just trying to tell the best story we can about ourselves on any given day; objective truth is a myth and always has been.

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2 thoughts on “Controlling your story

  1. Really insightful, Mike….. or is it inciteful. 🙂
    And thanks for linking me here. Where would you like me to cross link you?

  2. It's entirely up to you. Unlike some blogs — you know, the ones with readers — this one doesn't live or die by its popularity or the number of pages that link to it. In other words, I'm okay with people linking here and okay with them not linking here. Link if you like, Brita. Link if you like.

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