'Hello, I'm a PC:' Microsoft's perception problem persists

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In its third week in the wild, Microsoft's outwardly pointless advertisements will tonight be making their first statement, and it's one we're now familiar with: I'm a PC.

In the wee morning hours today, Microsoft's Steve Clayton posted a brief blog saying he'd seen the ads that will be airing tonight, and provided a link to the New York Times' fresh analysis, along with a picture of a diver in a shark cage holding up a tablet displaying the once-derisive slogan "I'm a PC."

The second phase of the campaign is expected to keep Bill Gates, but at least for this phase, substitute Jerry Seinfeld with a rotating cast of celebrities. As Senior Vice President Carmi Levy of AR Communications predicted before the first ad even ran, Seinfeld was just the first step on the road to image recovery paved with high-profile marketing announcements. Future ads will include the likes of actress Eva Longoria and Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes as well as "regular people" -- the same that appeared to be completely incompatible with Gates and Seinfeld in the first ads -- as "the PC."

Co-opting the negatively loaded statement by Apple and turning it into one of empowerment is a linguistic trend that author Randall Kennedy calls "flipping." In the last twenty years, the tactic has been employed on racial and socioeconomic epithets to dull their cutting edge.

But it would be remiss to liken Microsoft to an oppressed minority, since current stats from hitslink give Windows a 91% market share. The various flavors of Mac's OS X do happen to be the closest competitor, but at a paltry 8%. If anything, saying "I'm a PC" is an unabashed show of hubris. "You're damn right I'm a PC, what are you going to do about it, use Solaris?"

While this series of advertisements has already been called an attempt to re-construct Microsoft's tarnished image, it appears to be more an attempt to control the public dialogue that MS lost its grip of with Vista, and maintain that control into the future as the role of software loses precedence to Web-based services.

We'll see if it still tries to be funny.

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