marketing technology Uncategorized

‘Microsoft spreads the spirit of the season on 5th Ave’

Microsoft’s holiday-themed commercial:

Cute idea, but I completely missed the point on first watch. It wasn’t clear to me exactly where the Microsoft crew was caroling. The ad offers only fleeting glimpses of the Apple logo outside the flagship 5th Avenue store. Maybe Microsoft was reluctant to showcase its rival—and celebrate an Apple Store pilgrimage?

Microsoft repurposes and recontextualizes the song (“Let There Be Peace on Earth”) here. On the one hand, the commercial excises the piece’s overtly religious lyrics (“With God as our Father / Brothers all are we”). That’s appropriate—and not unusual; marketers secularize Christmas carols every year. There’s a more troubling change, though: should a childrens’ peacemaking anthem be deployed as a calculated gesture of corporate solidarity?

Leaving aside religion and politics, the commercial demonstrates just how much the companies’ once-fierce animosity has cooled in recent years. The ‘Mac vs. PC’ war didn’t end, exactly. But mobile and cloud computing makes the desktop market somewhat of a sideshow. In fact, these days, the core businesses of Apple and Microsoft barely even overlap. Stated simply, Apple builds mobile hardware, mostly for consumers. Microsoft builds productivity software, mostly for businesses. It’s hard to maintain a spirited rivalry when your teams don’t really compete.

Another reason for these technology giants to reconcile? They’re so alike—in that they both have questionable fashion sense. Which uniform is uglier: Apple’s Christmas-red mock turtlenecks or Microsoft’s pastel fleece caps?

internet TV Uncategorized

Streaming TV wins—except on Thanksgiving.

Like many millennials, I don’t subscribe to traditional TV. Cable companies overcharge for an inferior, viewer-hostile product. Once you get used to streaming, you can’t go back to TV’s linear air times, limited programming options, and endless sponsor breaks.

… Except during Thanksgiving. Combine extra vacation time with an extended family’s varied tastes, and streaming has some downsides. Its chief appeal—the ability to choose—suddenly becomes a burden. The tribe gathers around TV’s warm, glowing, warming glow, then spends twenty frustrating minutes browsing Netflix. You scroll hopelessly past shows recommended for you—but not for Grandma Marigold. If someone proposes a program, stubborn vetoes and frustrated groans arise from all corners. Some family members play the passive-aggressive card (“Oh, that movie? Well, I can always go in the other room”). Eventually, the feuding factions brook a compromise: a movie everyone can stomach but no one really likes.

Contrast that to cable, where there are fewer disagreements and no tough decisions. The entire family knows that the shows are trash. Everyone resigns themselves to low-quality entertainment: faux-“reality” TV, bastardized movie edits, over-sponsored sports.

There’s something nice about traditional TV’s limitations. One hour flows seamlessly into the next—often, another episode of the same show. Your brain shuts down, and you table your worries: the dead-end job, the mortgage payment, your lonely social life. TV doesn’t make you feel good, exactly, but it drowns out the bad thoughts. A wired, buzzy sensation sets in; it’s—not happiness, exactly, but close. Combine TV with a steady intake of holiday leftovers, and the experience is kind of wonderful.

Kind of. Eventually, your Thanksgiving bender ends, and the hangover sets in. Your head feels hollow. Your eyes ache. You look back in horror at what you’ve done (“I wasted four days watching Property Brothers?!”). Ashamed, you swear never to binge on TV ever again.

But don’t kid yourself. Christmas break is coming, and that 72-hour Mythbusters marathon ain’t gonna watch itself.

movies Uncategorized

An oral history of ‘Home Alone’

George Lucas on Home Alone (as recounted by the former chairman of Twentieth Century Fox):

You know you’ve got a big hit coming? The one about the kid. The movie business is binary. The light is either on or it’s off. If it’s on, there’s nothing you can do to screw it up.

Home Alone hit theaters twenty-five years ago this week. Chicago Magazine’s oral history is well worth a read. It recounts how a simple Christmas movie became a runaway success.

Home Alone remains one of my holiday favorites. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was nine years old (the same age as the film’s hero) when I first saw it. For my younger self, the film struck the perfect balance between schmaltz, prepubescent irreverence, and slapstick.

It’s easier to see the seams now (for example, we spend most of the movie waiting for the booby trap sequence). But the John Williams score still whips up instant nostalgia, and the Old Man Marley ending makes me weepy. (Don’t judge me. I’m a sucker for father-son reconciliation stories.)

What better way to waste time this Thanksgiving week than to revisit the McCallisters, the Wet Bandits, and the Sound Bend Shovel Slayer?