Microsoft Copy: Nietzschean Emptiness with a Freudian slip

by Gabriel

And you’ve probably worked out, shortly after asking the question, ‘how could a global corporation with billions of dollars and swathes of talent at its disposal come up with something so crass?’ that it is meant to be deliberately bad so that it will spread virally around the Internet. No publicity is bad publicity and all that.

And here we are talking about Microsoft.

I’m wondering whether the same is true of Microsoft's marketing materials for Windows 7. Are they deliberately terrible to ensure that people talk about how bad they are, thus spreading the word? After all, you can always blame your marketing guys for badly describing a product, while enjoying the attention that your product is gaining.

Or are they just crap?

I’m wondering this in particular because I caught sight of some Microsoft Partner Network blurb that arrived in the office this week. The copy is so bad it’s depressing. In fact it’s hard to know where to start. For the sake of my mental health (and yours), and for the sake of restricting this post to something less than debut-fantasy-novel length, I will describe only two of the items on just one of the pieces of promotional material. Believe me, there is a lot, lot more.

Words so meaningless they would make Nietzsche proud

My customers depend on me to work with them to transform the way they do business with the solutions we provide, and to ensure the supporting technology is in place

This heads an A4 flyer for Windows 7 as a pull-out quotation next to a picture of a smiling woman. Not to worry that the woman is clearly a model, that the context is ambiguous owing to the lack of quotation marks or that there is no name, detail or other attribution given under the quotation…

Never mind about the grammatical errors of ‘My customers … we provide’ – ‘the way [that] they do business’ and ‘the solutions [that] we provide’…

Just look at what utter guff it is.

My customers depend on me…

This goes without saying. If they didn’t depend on you, they wouldn’t be your customers.

…to work with them…

Again, that’s what happens when you have customers.

…to transform the way they do business…

Transform in what way? Crashing all their computer systems would transform the way that they do business. So would setting fire to their office. It’s meaningless without any qualification. As is 'do business.'

…with the solutions we provide…

Again, this is utterly meaningless without any context. And there is something about ‘providing a solution’ that doesn’t work. A solution is a means of solving a problem. But what problem? You can’t provide a solution if you don’t know what the problem is. You can’t just go around ‘providing solutions’. If you are solving a particular problem, then you are not a solution provider but a problem solver. Solutions Provider sounds like a self-proclaimed Messiah wandering around the desert wondering why no one will follow the path to enlightenment that he is offering.

…to ensure the supporting technology is in place

Technology is a broad thing. ‘Supporting’ is redundant – you’re hardly going to use technology that doesn’t support what you are doing. ‘Ensure’ is a rather self satisfied verb (what’s wrong with ‘put’?).

And ‘in place’ is redundant too.

Betrayed by the subconscious?

So, take out all the redundancies and meaningless phrases and you’re left with:

Solve some problems for people with technology.

– which is pretty much a repetition of the tagline:

Windows 7 Enables a Better Solution

The tagline doesn't mean much either:

‘Enables’ is redundant. You wouldn’t say ‘the pub enables you to have a drink’. ‘Solution’ to what? What is being solved? What’s the problem? And ‘Better’ than what?

Oh that’s right. I remember now. It took a little while to drill down through the layers of generic, banal nothingness to finally find a meaning in Microsoft’s copy, but we’ve got one in the end. It might only be implied, in fact it might be Freudian slip, but at least there is something of substance when you look hard enough.

They should have written:

Windows 7 – Better than Vista

Which I suspect is as close as we're going to get to an apology.

It is hard to think that Microsoft's copy is intentionally bad so that critics will spread it, given that the role of copy in flyers is to make things clearer to customers. Perhaps they were trying to paint with wide enough brush strokes to address everyone, but in doing so have not said anything to anybody. Apart from that little slip about it being better than Vista, which I sincerely hope that it is.

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