For the Love of Art: Storytelling in Advertising | ‘Empower’ And the Implications of One Word

As the central branding message surrounding the entire company, Microsoft’s 2014 (and still ongoing) multimedia campaign and its tonal stage-setting relies on the narrative implications of a single word: ‘Empower’. Thus, the campaign can be perceived as a hybrid brand establishment attempt by Microsoft, in solidifying its name and association within a worldwide humanitarian, innovative enterprising and creative paradigm. As one of the most recognisable brands in the world, Microsoft’s popular public image is a global but impersonal one.

The ‘Empowering us all’ campaign is created with the intention of establishing a more personal relationship between the general public and the company, evident from the optimistically framed storytelling devices that forms the emotional centre of the entire campaign. In addition, Microsoft’s intentions with the campaign’s overall message can be further understood by analysing the product reveal branding that ran alongside this one: the message of Microsoft products being utilised by individuals to empower others and themselves has become a universal slogan for Microsoft. Therefore, as a brand perception campaign, the ‘Empowering us all’ initiative exists as a storytelling thematic establishment that aims to portray Microsoft in a more socially aware and human company; one that innovates for the betterment of society, the enhancement of lifestyles and the empowering of artistry and creativity worldwide.

microsoft-windows-10-devices

In understanding the overall intentions of the campaign, the theoretical bases that holds the foundation of the creative decisions behind ‘Empowering us all’ are surrounded by the need to establish an easily followed narrative for the consumer. Essentially, the reliance on human stories; a trait that optimises the entire campaign, is rooted within the understanding of narrative processing and how individuals receive and interpret narrative signals. Humans tend to subconsciously create stories in order to organize their experiences and media intakes, create order, explain events, gain perspective and make evaluations (Bruner, 1986), which allows them to associate and recall meaning through casual referencing. Therefore, the presence of a narrative element in all of the campaign’s various character pieces and videos are central inclusions that allows for maximum resonance and recall, though many other thematic devices were also utilised in achieving that; all of them unique to different examples within the overall campaign.

By extension, the connection between an individual and his/her perception of a brand is proposed by Krugman as a representation of self. In other words, the decision of a brand over another is a personal statement of self (Escalas, 2004): an adaptation of a brand’s story, belief and image, as well as tools for social integration, symbols of personal accomplishment, self-esteem and individuality (Krugman, 1965). To establish such an appeal, Microsoft’s campaign demonstrates readily understood narratives that seeks to validate consumers’ resonance with the human condition; depicting life stories that resonate with the human aspects of perseverance and personal courage, invoking morally resonate emotions of inspiration and goodwill. Microsoft’s advert launch at the Super Bowl 2014; a company first as a present brand on such a marketing platform, exists as a fitting compilation of inspiring human stories, edited together into 60 seconds, fit for its medium. As a whole, the video’s triumphs exist within its achievements as an emotionally impactful experience.

Steve Gleason’s technology-aided narration not only grounds the entire video in a situationally fitting background (Gleason being a formal NFL player living with ALS, narrating in an advert that launched at the Super Bowl), but also frames an incredibly dense montage of both historically monumental and deeply personal achievements that were ultimate tributes to human bravery and technological innovation. Interestingly, the video aims to celebrate technology as a whole, evident from the on-screen question ‘What is Technology?’ 3 seconds in, as well as additional statements of technology’s power to unite and inspire. Microsoft’s brand presence in the video is relatively subtle, with Gleason not verbally mentioning neither Microsoft’s name out loud, nor does he refer to any of the company’s products by name. Microsoft’s brand presence is only shown through incidental inclusions of its products on screen, such as the Microsoft Surface that operates Gleason’s speech-generating device, the Kinect, Skype, a graphic overlay of the Windows 10 interface, and the inclusion of its logo, immediately after the slogan ‘Empowering us all’. As a whole, while the absence of clear Microsoft branding in the majority of the video were overshadowed by the more universal term ‘technology’, thus making the advert less effective in informing the audience of Microsoft devices, the advert’s emotional resonance is inclusive and delivers a universal narrative that is fittingly framed from the perspective of a company that is considered a forerunner in technological innovation (Warren, 2014), thus inviting fresh perspectives on Microsoft as a company.

To further understand the idiosyncrasies of Microsoft’s campaign and its storytelling, the inclusion of longer video-form narratives that focus on a single individual’s life gives further leeway for the audience to establish an emotional connection with the presented story. In addition, this format of advertising improves upon the above example, through a more apparent structure in terms of a temporal dimension, or events occurring over time. Generally, the audience recall and relate to stories in episodic sequences; a beginning, middle and end, which means a more resonate story can be recalled from a three-part relationship of causality (Stein & Albro, 1997). Sarah Churman’s story was told through a video advert that was dedicated to her exclusively. The narrative progression from her being born with bilateral deafness to gaining a new Microsoft-supported hearing implant delivers a story that is clearly structured from a causal standpoint, allowing easy self-story insertion. Sarah narrates about gaining the implant because of a desire to hearing her children’s laughter, which immediately invites emotional empathy from the audience. This was further supplemented by Sarah’s overwhelmed reaction to hearing for the first time because of the successful implant. Because of the success, the rest of the video also depicts her growing independence.

Additional insight can also be extracted from media commentator Jeff Preston’s positive assessment of Microsoft’s ‘Empowering us all’ campaign from a more cultural standpoint: its advertising’s lack of pity-driven representation of the disabled. From this angle, Microsoft’s overall tone for its campaign is called into consideration, as it demonstrates the company’s social awareness of the discourse surrounding social inspiration and the portrayal of the disabled. Preston’s critique surrounds Microsoft’s video dedicated to Braylon O’Neill: “One of the most interesting parts of this commercial is that it spends little time narrating Braylon’s disability and instead focuses on the ways adaptive technology has augmented his life. … it attempts to situate Braylon as a regular kid who happens to use prosthetics. Braylon’s existence is not framed as one of deficit or dysfunction, but one of adaptation — I don’t feel that we are meant to feel sorry for him, but are asked to awe in how he isn’t disabled…this is a progressive encounter with disability because it’s focus is empowerment, not the typical shame and/or pity.” (Preston, 2015) Therefore, Preston’s comments ultimately bring the discourse back to Microsoft’s choice of the word ‘Empowering’. The company is positioning itself as an organisation of social betterment, a company that develops products that improves the human condition, while the word ‘empower’ gives off a progressive and very much generous tone that Microsoft is not the main innovator or hero here: its role in the world is one of loyal support, for all the innovators in the globe that rely on technology to better the world. This message ultimately achieves resonant success as it addresses a social need of empathy, as well as a new perspective on Microsoft’s brand image.

Finally, as a supplement analysis in which to provide perspective on Microsoft’s devotion to the campaign through additional external narratives, it is interesting to observe how the tagline of ‘empowering others’ is emphasised by a particular product launch during 2015 that optimises the overall message of the company’s campaign. In other words, the new launch campaign in question is directly incorporating its narrative with the thematic essence of the former. HoloLens’ product announcement in January 2015 was borderline a guaranteed success, due to the unprecedented technological new heights that it embodies, though Microsoft’s framing of the product through recognisable ‘everyday usage’ is what ultimately made its initial public conception a relative success story (Bohn & Warren, 2015). The launch advert’s beginning is similar in tone with the company’s 2014 Super Bowl advert, in that it champions technology and its positive impact on humanity.

However, the HoloLens video is also a showcase of impactful use of visual metaphor, plus affirmation and ‘piggybacking’ of already-existing consumer attitudes. The sci-fi fiction inspired visualisation of the device’s capabilities develops a nostalgic tone and a yearning for the future, as the video showcases holograms overtaking the physical space. As fitting supplements, the video focuses on the real-world uses of the device through relatable and appealing ‘what if’ narratives, such as utilising holograms as effective design concept visualisations, interactive virtual guides through Skype when someone helps another individual fix a pipe, all the while not even being in the same room with each other, as well as holographic projections of Mars’ surface, fit for scientists to observe the planet’s rock formations in their own labs back on Earth. Furthermore, Microsoft is able to further encourage hype, by incorporating currently existing products into futuristic concepts. With Minecraft having more than 100 million registered users as of 2014 (Makuch, 2014), the creative implications of seeing the game as interactive holograms that melds any physical space, creates its own narrative arc that resonates with an established fan base. Overall, the tone of HoloLens’ announcement advert mirrors Microsoft’s campaign message of social empowerment, by emphasising its real-world uses and the possibilities of the product in the hands of innovators. HoloLens as a product embodies Microsoft’s brand message as a technological innovator that empowers creators worldwide, and its marketing showcases a company-wide resonance with the brand message; thus in turn, strengthening it.

In conclusion, there is little doubt that Microsoft’s brand perception campaign in the message ‘Empowering us all’ is well supplemented by effective storytelling and framing to be positively resonate with the audience. As a company with a highly prolific presence in the global market, Microsoft sees the need for a more personal resonance with its customer base, while also reminding them of the cultural and social impact that the company contributed to in the past, and how its more than capable of continuing that company tradition in the future. Microsoft has adapted the ‘empowering’ message across its entire presence as a company, as evidenced by its CEO’s constant mentioning of ‘empowering’ in the Convergence 2015 address (16 times in total): “We, as a technology provider and a business systems and as solutions provider, are very focused on one single thing: it is about empowering you as individuals and organizations across every vertical, across every size of business in any part of the world to be able to drive your agenda and achieve more and do things that you want to do with your business.  That’s our identity.” (Nadella, 2015) Therefore, as a campaign sold on emotionally resonant storytelling, ‘Empowering us all’ stands as an effective series of adverts that emphasises human compassion and technological innovation.

References

Campaign compilation website https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/empowering/

Campaign Launch video at Superbowl 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaOvHKG0Tio

Supplement Video 1: HoloLens reveal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aThCr0PsyuA

Supplement Video 2: Sarah Churman – Hearing for the first time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikrsjFTfn1w

Supplement Video 3: Microsoft Super Bowl Commercial 2015: Braylon O’Neill https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLXRt-qRBfU

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Escalas, J, E. (2004). Narrative Processing: Building Consumer Connection to Brands. Eller School of Business and Public Administration. University of Arizona. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Krugman, H. E. (1965). The impact of television advertising: Learning without involvement. Public Opinion Quarterly, 30

Makuch, E.”Minecraft Passes 100 Million Registered Users, 14.3 Million Sales on PC.” GameSpot. N.p., 26 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. http://www.gamespot.com/articles/minecraft-passes-100-million-registered-users-14-3-million-sales-on-pc/1100-6417972/

Nadella, S. “Satya Nadella: Convergence 2015.” News Center. N.p., 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. https://news.microsoft.com/speeches/satya-nadella-convergence-2015/#sm.0000zm814p6g7dpkq582547bja3iv

Pennington, N., & Hastie, R. (1986). Evidence evaluation in complex decisionmaking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51

Pennington, N., & Hastie, R. (1992). Explaining the evidence: Tests of the story model for juror decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62

Preston, J.”Microsoft #Empowering Campaign – Jeff Preston.” Jeff Preston. N.p., 01 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. http://www.jeffpreston.ca/2015/02/01/microsoft-empowering-campaign/

Stein, N. L., & Albro, E. R. (1997). Building complexity and coherence: Children’s use of goal-structured knowledge in telling stories. In M. 178 EDSON ESCALAS Bamberg (Ed.), Narrative development: Six approaches (vol. 1, pp. 5–44). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Warren, T. “Microsoft’s Super Bowl Ad Reminds the World Why Its Software Matters.” The Verge. N.p., 2014. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/1/5368820/microsoft-super-bowl-2014-ad

Warren, T & Bohn, D”We Just Tried HoloLens, Microsoft’s Most Intriguing Product in Years.” The Verge. N.p., 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 July 2016. http://www.theverge.com/2015/1/21/7868251/microsoft-hololens-hologram-hands-on-experience


I mentioned on various occasions; that I am currently completing a double Bachelors degree in Design and Media (PR & Advertising). This is the first major essay from the Media front that I feel is deserving to be read by you guys.

Microsoft is one of those companies I share a resonant beat with. I don’t know if it’s because a PC was one of the first ‘toys’ I’ve ever played with, banging on the keyboard of a Windows 98 machine with my infant eyes widening in amazement, seeing letters appearing on the monitor, but one of the childhood dreams that I still have tucked away in my brain’s endless vaults, was to work for Microsoft. I certainly know plenty about their services and their brand image, but I doubt I would be in their studios, whipping up magic any time soon. But whatever. Hoped my readers enjoyed this third entry.

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