April 13, 2010
 

Microsoft's "Vaporware" on MLK's Birthday.

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Separate water fountains in North Carolina, 1950.

Sometimes a photo is worth more than a 1,000 articles. While the one above sums it all from an era that still plagues us in society, one must question how far Madison Avenue has come in changing these 1950's era water fountains in the advertising business.

Last year's embarrassing expose' uncovered the fact that maybe 2-3% of all top agency holding company employees are African American. Most of these positions are in admin-based job responsibilities. The numbers in management can often be counted on one hand. Perhaps this situation is quietly shuffled under the run by the large media trade companies, Ad Age, Adweek and Mediapost, as all of them have 1% or less in middle management or above, who are African American or Hispanic.

Yet this doesn't stop agencies from recommending to their clients to cast a huge percent of commercials to include a person of color. Not only is that hypocritical, it is modern-day communications exploitation. We would love to see African American actors boycott casting agents, though we understand why they don't. They can't. The simple reason is that they and their families have a hard enough time getting employment from the companies who stage these hypocritical TV spots for all to see, especially on high rating programs like the SuperBowl.

We plan on listing and counting how many companies run TV commercials in the SuperBowl which include African American actors. Then we'll be doing a check on their employment ratios. No doubt it should be fairly depressing.

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Let's focus for a moment though on how racism is used historically, as most recently in a highly-contentious ad campaign which ran in our most recently election. According to MSNBC, in the election to win the Senate seat of retiring Republican leader Bill Frist, Bob Corker, Chattanooga Republican Mayor, ran a TV spot with racial undertones against Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr., an African American, which were considered so racial that his own party leadership called on him to pull it down. Click here to see the Corker Campaign TV commercial Following the spot (in the same feed), MSNBC interviewed Madison Avenue's own Jerry Della Famina, a Republican to get his thoughts. According to Della Famina, the spot is incredibly racial and is "just wrong." Well, that's politics as usual.

Which one is worse, using stereotypes that have slandered African Americans for generations, or new ones, when companies use "politically correct" TV spots to position themselves as good citizens with messages and PR releases which hide their racism in the work place?

And the Winner isn't...

We estimate that Microsoft is most likely the biggest offender of this practice. It's their new version of their infamous "vaporware" strategy in the 1990's.

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The Vaporware Water Fountain

IF you are not familiar with "vaporware," it's a once-common term invented at Microsoft that seems applicable today. As defined by Ken Barnes and associates, publishers of "The Microsoft Lexicon. Or Microspeak made easier," here's vaporware's "official definition":

Vaporware: A Microsoft classic, dating back to at least the early-'90s era of "Micro-serfs" (likely before), and now escaped into the world at large. Software that was conceived (and probably promoted and advertised) but never came to fruition; by extension, a foolish or "fanciful conceit".

Here's how it would work: Say Cisco or Sun or any other competitor would announce a fabulous new product. Reporters would then rush to Redmond and query what Microsoft thought of the new software. The Microsoft Press agents systematically would announce that they were about to come out with a product superior in nature.

They would recommend that buyers of the new software wait for 3 months until they released their competitive product. Buyers would buy into the fabrication and hold off buying from the Microsoft competitor.

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Microsoft's Entrance: Black Vaporware

In the meantime, Microsoft would put a team together to study the new product and do everything to rip it off ASAP and then introduce their own version of the exact same product.

The effect? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Microsoft continues to use vaporware, but now among the average consumer. Just look at their most recent ad campaign. It displays an extremely well dressed African American (in a suit that costs well over $10,000) in a cab on his Blackberry. He's typing in a text message that he will be slightly late to a meeting. The actor displays a wonderful and confident leadership style. He arrives at the meeting walks in and sits at the head of the table, crisply summoning the white shirt underlings waiting for him to let the meeting to begin. It is incredibly well done and a fantasy that we would all love to see in real life. Afrian Americans finally have a leadership seat at the table. We would love to say, "Hey, nice goin' Bill," except that less than 1% of all Microsoft employees are in top management and well less than 10% of its workforce are people of color.

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Back in 2003, Microsoft made a huge deal about their $15 million grant to the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund for Black Colleges and Universities. It was to enable students learn more about technology. Gee whiz, Whoppee! Why the cynicism? Just do the math.

Think of all the income Microsoft sucks in from companies who use their technology to market a portion of their products to the African American market. Microsoft's fees are baked into the premium prices the African American market is often required to pay.

Microsoft's revenue in 2007 will be in the $45-50 billion range. Assuming if only 5% (conservatively) of that figure is generated from income from goods and services to the African American market, that figure comes to $2.5 billion being sucked out of the African American market. Do the math, $2.5 billion vs. $2.5 million. That's .6 of 1%.

Considering that the ethnic market represents about 10% of the American population, using the 2006 $13 trillion US GNP, we see that Microsoft is hardly the only company exploiting blacks and giving nothing back. However, they are, with McCann Erikson's help, one of the best employers of vaporware in promoting this "fanciful conceited" black-ploitation ad campaign.

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Suggestion, see Will Smith's Pursuit of Happyness.

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