Out of My Mind

The Musings of a Woman Who Thinks Too Much

Nelle Engoron

Nelle Engoron
May 01
You can email me at "nengoron@gmaildotcom" & follow @NelleEngoron on Twitter. My archived radio shows on last season's Mad Men are available (for free!) at: www.blogtalkradio.com/madmentalk **My "Mad Men" commentary for Season 5 is on Salon rather than here -- go to http://www.salon.com/writer/ nelle_engoron/ to find all my Salon articles. **My book, "Mad Men Unmasked: Decoding Season 4," is available on Amazon in both e-book and print versions.** I'm a writer/editor/consultant who lives in the SF Bay Area. I write about all kinds of things, but am particularly intrigued by movies, relationships, gender issues, belief systems and "Mad Men." (Scroll down left sidebar for links to a selection of my blog posts.) I'm working on a novel and a memoir, neither of which is about Mad Men!

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NOVEMBER 2, 2010 4:00PM


Rate: 28 Flag

If you watched the World Series, you no doubt saw a commercial from Microsoft touting their soon-to-be-released Windows smart phone. In it, a slick flurry of scenes depict people so engrossed in their smart phones that they spill drinks, trip over or trip up other people, neglect their clients or patients or seductively dressed lovers, and even fish a dropped phone out of the bottom of a urinal – which prompts a disgusted observer to utter the ad’s sarcastic punchline, “Really?

Amusing in its depiction of a defining obsession of our age, visually striking and scored with stirring music that rises to a crescendo, the commercial is a big step forward for a company long-known for its terrible TV ads.

Or is it?

Because as you watch the spot, you’re amused and riveted right up until the limp close – which reveals that the cure to this raging societal obsession is switching to a Windows phone.  In other words, the message is:  A Microsoft product will make you want to use your phone less.

Well, perhaps we finally have truth in advertising.

Touted as a “phone to save us from our phones,” it’s “designed to get you in and out and back to your life.” 

Really, Microsoft? 

Nice try, but the problem isn’t that existing smartphones aren’t efficient – it’s that they’re not just useful but mesmerizing, in large part because people keep adding more apps to them that they love to use.  So unless your phone is boring, has no apps or is inefficient, it will not save anyone from their compulsive smartphone use.

This commercial seems to me a perfect symbol of our Mad Hatter’s Tea Party times:  an utterly illogical message dressed up in diverting packaging. They’re hoping you’ll just buy it rather than think about what it really means – because if you do, it all falls apart.

We laugh grimly now that anyone ever fell for arguments such as needing to burn the village to save it (during the Viet Nam war) yet during the health care debate, millions of clueless citizens were terrified that Medicare might fall into the hands of the federal government (which always made me wonder who they thought ran it – the tooth fairy?)

The same folks who told us it was treasonous to protest the Bush Administration’s war on Iraq have portrayed the Tea Party protests as the patriotic cause of “taking back our country” from the lawfully elected government.  (Please look up “treason” in the dictionary, fellas.) The same folks who, when they disagreed with the message, ignored the fact that free speech is perhaps our most precious national right, as well as the fact that our country was founded by protestors (making it as American as George Washington) now dress up in Revolutionary War garb and portray themselves as freedom fighters for their incendiary protests of not just the policies but the President.  It seems the height of either hypocrisy or illogic, but then these are people who embrace leaders with absolutely no idea of what’s really in the Constitution.

Throughout this election cycle we’ve been told by both traditional Republicans and Tea Party candidates that too much government is the real problem -- and the only way to solve it is to send them to Washington to serve in government. (Because, you know, there’s such a strong history of people who are elected making their jobs obsolete.)

This Escher-like maze of illogic has been adopted by even those who are so far inside the Beltway that they can see the back of the buckle (witness John Boehner promising to shake things up in that dastardly town of DC as if he’s the new sheriff come to town in Blazing Saddles).

Not that inexperience is a good thing, either. Here in California, we elected a Governator who was a true outsider – a man with absolutely no political experience but a lot of cachet and charisma – who promised to “blow up the boxes” of our dysfunctional state government. He leaves office several years later having admitted defeat. A billionaire who wants to replace him has essentially cribbed the same campaign (that’s what you get when you hire the same advisors). Apparently vowing not to get fooled again, the people of California are rapidly turning from her to the old hard-nosed pro.

Every politician has to be evaluated on merits, not message. Messages lie. Deeds tell the truth.

Not smartphones but illogical and wishful thinking is what we really need to be rescued from.  It’s time for a citizen to save us from our citizens. And that citizen is you, as you vote, both today and in the future.


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deeds tell the truth even though the deed is to do nothing.
I have to wonder what the MS people are thinking when they choose these campaigns that inevitably backfire on them.

What happens when dumb and stupid really do rule, when there are more of them than us? Where is that tipping point? I guess when science classes are forced to teach that creationism is one way the ball got rolling, that would be one. And if abortion were outlawed and doctors accused of murder, that would be another one.
Excellent post, Nelle! You are the queen of pointing out the nakedness of the emperor. Haven't seen the ad but have been baffled by the tea partiers -- and why anyone is actually buying what they're selling ...
they never really connect with art of marketing do they...I think it has to do with the fact that they are, as a company and a culture, so derivative. They attempt to put a veneer on their stuff, but really, underneath it's still the 8-bit operating system--metaphorically. They only ever really copy.

Did you ever see the parody on how MS redesigns the iPod packaging? It hurts and is sadly funny because it's so true, though Apple has advanced light years from even it's own art in packaging from that time. Video found here.
Nelle, I love the expose and in the absence of Madmania, please keep us thinking with posts like this!
I haven't seen that ad cause I don't watch TV (Madmen's on the computer.) But you NAILED our times in very few words. Aside from knowing how to write it probably helps that you come from the state that's always ahead of the curve - in this case in becoming completely unglued.
Actions not words. It is one of the truisms of life. You are our essayist of reason, besides being our madmenmania go-to gal.
You turned an ad for a cell phone into a statement about the American voting populace. I'm amazed by this. You did it so well! And truthfully with no bullshit!
Really, having been forced to watch this commercial multiple times during the World Series, I now consider myself a minor expert on it--and it is a strategic failure. There is no phone to save us from our phones, only a crappy Microsoft phone that will require endless tech support just to allow us to waste time on our phones. REally? REally.
i haven't had a land line in 6 yrs but the day i trade in my doofus simple cell for a smart thingy take me out and have me shot please r.
A brilliant IBM ad from the late 80s:
The less you know about computers the more you'll like the PS2.
Few advertisements have been so true.
Brilliantly expressed!
I second Gabby Abby's motion. All in favor say "aye." The ayes have it!
Terrific analysis.
It's funny, but that's exactly how I reacted to seeing this ad myself. I was reminded of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: I don't think that commercial means what they wanted it to mean.
Brilliant, Nelle! Spot on and laser-sharp, as always. (Kind-of glad Mad Men is over to see what you focus on next...)
This deserves the cover.
Oops. It not only deserves the cover, it's on the cover!
What a great connection you make here! (Isn't it wonderful when you see something like an innocent commercial and then are able to write a whole brilliant piece around it? I wish it happened to me more often!)

You make some really excellent points and, of course, none of us are immune to being hoodwinked like this.

Glad you're finding other things to write about, and I hope your Sunday nights are much more relaxed now!
M the Elder and I saw that at the same time - that ad, the one with the automobile accident. And it was mesmerizing. And at the end, she said, "Awesome!"

Then I rewound it, the ad, and we slo mo'd through the interesting parts.

Then I played the ending, paused it there, and said, M - what are they selling here?

She opened her mouth. Then closed it.


Great post, Doll, Great post!
Thanks, all! I have limited time to be online today so can't respond to individual comments, but I deeply appreciate all of yours (REALLY!)
don't know much about the Microsoft ad, I fast forward thru commercials, but your larger point about the illogic and wishful thinking of the "Tea Party" (really just the rightmost non-havemore rump of the Republican base) is very well taken

get your popcorn machines going, the investigation and impeachment show is about to get started in the House, and it's going to be a doozy
microsoft is a company thats a case study in slowly losing track of the market and failing to innovate. the stock is almost completely sideways in the 10yrs ballmer has run it. they cant get traction on anything new. pathetic.
I would rate you twice for this line: "This Escher-like maze of illogic has been adopted by even those who are so far inside the Beltway that they can see the back of the buckle"
I know! I love this ad. But then I got to the end and...well, you explained it. Excellent post all around.
Microsoft products have always had that effect on me: each one they come out with makes me want to use their products less and less. What's the problem?
Interesting article, and I'm glad I had the chance to read it. I rarely watch television, so I would have completely missed the ad, but your analysis of it makes it so I don't have to start watching television to get your important point.
Epic rant on Microsoft, i actually laughed out loud on this, "A Microsoft product will make you want to use your phone less.Well, perhaps we finally have truth in advertising."
How did I miss this spot-on, excellent article?
It really is a dumb commercial!