In a recent video advertisement, Microsoft mounted a direct rhetorical attack on the presumed superiority of Apple in the tablet computer market, a market which Apple has long dominated with its iPad line of tablets. As Microsoft is attempting to break into the tablet market with their new Surface tablet (Rodriguez), this advertisement forms part of a campaign to establish the Surface as a viable and desirable alternative to the dominant Apple products. In pursuit of this goal, Microsoft advertised the Surface through both T.V. and Internet video advertising, and this commercial aired on both fronts as part of that push in the latter half of 2013. The advertisement itself takes the unusual approach of turning the distinctive elements of Apple’s own iPad advertisements against Apple. In this video ad, Microsoft hijacks Apple’s commercial place, style, presentation, and iconic Siri voice character in order to promote its own Surface tablet, in a rhetorical inversion of typical Apple advertising that successfully turns Apple’s commercial elements against the iPad they were intended to promote.
The first thing that viewers notice about this advertisement is its distinctive place. The overarching setting of the commercial—a minimalist bright white background, gentle upbeat music playing, and only the products in question presented—is practically identical to the place or stage used by Apple in their advertisements to present the features of their latest product. This familiar stronghold of Apple, which easily focuses the eye on the product at hand, is taken here and used to focus the viewer on the Windows Surface tablet while simultaneously minimizing the iPad. The traditional Apple stage is thus invaded by a rival Microsoft device, which is presented as the new center of attention. This is reinforced through the contrast of the white iPad and the black Surface tablet on the white background, which immediately draws the eye to the Windows tablet—a subversion of Apple’s original intent that implicitly suggests that Apple is no longer the only option for tablet computers.
Tied into the place of this advertisement is its style of presentation. The presentation and format of this commercial, with music playing while anonymous Caucasian hands directly demonstrate various features of the tablets on a bright white background, is a stock Apple presentation element. Here, though, the ubiquitous hands show off features from both iPad and the Surface tablet simultaneously. The hand operating the Windows tablet soon reveals features of the Surface that the iPad lacks, such as split-screen functionality, while the hand operating the iPad simultaneously conveys helplessness and even frustration with the iPad. While trying to use Powerpoint, the iPad hand communicates confusion and muted frustration before eventually giving up and moving off the screen, suggesting that the iPad’s apparent superiority is not enough to make up for frustrating design flaws—while, beside it, the hand operating the Surface modifies a Powerpoint easily. These hands deliver implicit appeals to both logos and pathos: their logical appeal is that the Surface has greater functionality and versatility than the iPad, while their pathetic appeal is that the Surface tablet will spare users the negative emotions of frustration and failure associated with the iPad by the hand gestures.
A major component of the subversive argumentation used by Microsoft is the character of Siri. Since its integration into Apple’s operating system, Siri has been a consistent character used in Apple advertisements to promote Apple products. Siri has been the confident “voice” of Apple products and thus of Apple itself since its launch, and is arguably the strongest rhetorical character available to Apple. Microsoft’s use of the normally confident character Siri to highlight features lacking in the iPad thus constitutes not only an attack on the iPad’s features, but an attack on the previous confidence of Siri, representing Apple, in its own superiority. This use of Siri against Apple is further aided through both the voice and diction of Siri in this advertisement. While Siri’s voice is by nature flat and monotonal, this neutrality is imbued with an air of defeat when combined with its diction, which is almost completely negative. The repetition of the phrase “I’m sorry”, which is then paired with some variation of a negative phrase about what iPad cannot do or can only do in a limited way, combines with Siri’s flattened tone to impress on viewers the impression that Apple’s tablet has been defeated by the Surface tablet. Siri becomes a central character with a voice of supreme irony, as the character integral to Apple’s image speaks throughout this video in a way that can only favor its rival Microsoft.
As this advertisement closes, Siri’s final question is “Should we just play ‘Chopsticks’?”, in a reference to previous Apple advertisement which showcased the virtual pianos of both an iPad and an iPad mini (Apple). Here, though, at the end of a presentation of Windows-only capabilities that has thus far served to make the iPad look deficient, its original purpose is inverted. The implications of the piano segment in its original context—namely, that the iPad has a piano and the loaded implications that iPad users are creative, smart, sophisticated people who do intelligent things like playing piano—are absent when it is placed at the end of a cascade of Windows-exclusive features. What appeared to be a strength of iPad is made a limp counterpoint to all of the Windows features the iPad lacks. This is the culmination of an underlying argument by comparison: in this video, Microsoft is not saying that Apple products do not have interesting features like virtual pianos, but simply that the Surface tablet has more and better features.
Finally, Microsoft ends the video with their slogan: “Less Talking. More Doing.” This effectively sums up the message of this video, finalizing the logical appeal that the Surface is superior due to its greater array of features which allow users to accomplish more, while simultaneously implying that all of the talking of Siri is both inefficient and unproductive. However, the greater features are not the primary reason why this advertisement is successful. It achieves success through its inversion of Apple’s traditional advertisement place, style, presentation, and character to present those features. As the Surface tablet, a stark black block set against Apple’s white minimalist motif, proceeds to cycle through ways in which it is superior to the iPad, Apple’s primary character Siri audibly questions the previous confidence in iPad’s dominant place in the tablet market. This helps to shake viewer confidence in Apple’s unquestionable superiority as well, helping to establish the Surface as a viable and desirable alternative tablet computer. Due to its success in presenting the Surface tablet as a true competitor, this short clip effectively causes its desired effect in viewers, and is a rhetorical success for Microsoft. Unfortunately, this small-scale rhetorical success has not translated into financial success for Microsoft. The tablet “was slow to sell” and Apple still has “a dominant grip on the tablet market” (Rodriguez), which seems to indicate that this particular battle is far from over. While this ad by itself is a convincing and successful presentation of the Surface tablet at the expense of the iPad, it appears that Microsoft will need to produce many more like it before their goal is realized.
Apple. Advertisement. YouTube. YouTube, 2 Nov. 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM9U70HgLsQ>.
Microsoft. Advertisement. YouTube. YouTube, 22 May 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86JMcy5OqZA>.
Rodriguez, Salvador. “Despite Early Struggles, Microsoft Pushes Ahead with Surface Tablets”. latimes.com. Tribune Newspaper, 04 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2013. <http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-microsoft-surface-panos-panay- 20131003,0,1592228.story>.