Back in April this little gem popped up in my Twitter feed:
Expecting it to have originated from those fine purveyors of satire, the Onion, I giggled to myself and was about to move on, when I noticed the chatter online: apparently this had been created by Microsoft to promote Office 365.
What on earth were Microsoft shooting for here? Thanks to Office 365, I'm a worse parent AND I'm less happy and fulfilled! Yay!
Gob-smacked, I couldn't help but dig a little. Surely this was a hoax – did Microsoft really make this? Dear reader, it appears they did:
Incidentally, according to this survey, 4% of people have worked whilst having sex. I'm glad they elected not to illustrate that one for us, but nevertheless it's an image I can't get out of my mind.
So, why am I sharing all this with you?
Fun as it is to point and laugh at huge corporations, I think there are lessons to take from this.
Just for the sake of clarity, I wasn't involved in any way with this Microsoft project, and I don't know anyone who was. As such, I can't say for sure how this piece came about.
However, in my experience, mistakes like this tend to occur when:
- there's a disconnect between the core message you want to communicate, and the content you produce
- there's a failure to consider whether or not a particular idea is a good 'brand fit'
What was the core message Microsoft wanted to communicate?
Having read the post that featured the infographic, it seems that Microsoft were seeking to position Office 365 as a great solution to help people get their work done wherever they are. Apparently they were even going so far as to create a 'Get it done day' and encourage people to share their stories about how technology helps them accomplish tasks.
For what it's worth, that sounds a little self-serving to me, but let's park that for the time being.
As part of their activity they commissioned a survey (I suspect) in order to uncover trends and attitudes towards work. It actually starts out pretty solidly:
"As the lines between life and work blur, more than half (55%) of office workers say they need to be able to get work done no matter where they are, and more than one-third (37%) said they do their best thinking outside the office..."
The stats (whilst not spectacularly surprising) do seem to make a decent case for a technology solution like Office365 – people need to get work done even if they're out of the office; plus it can be inferred that perhaps people actually work better when they're outside the office. People therefore need technology that supports rather than restricts them.
Then sadly, everything comes crashing down:
- 19% work when they're on the toilet
- 47% work when they're on vacation
- 20% of parents work when they're supposed to be watching their children participate in an event or activity
- 27% work when they go out to eat
- 27% work when they're in bed
Why on earth did Microsoft elect to share those results? Why did they even ask those questions?
Now, there are some fantastic headlines, but none of them position Office 365 as a solution. If anything, those stats position Office 365 (and other similar technologies) as the problem.
There's a fundamental disconnect between what Microsoft want to communicate:
"Office 365 is a great solution to the challenges of modern life"
and what they're actually communicating:
"Thanks to Office 365, you're always working and everything else will suffer as a result."
By asking questions like 'Have you ever worked when you were... on vacation / sick / out to eat / in bed / having sex?' they were inadvertantly casting their technology as the villain of the piece.
Was this piece a good brand fit for Microsoft?
I've previously mentioned that when coming up with creative ideas, we use the following framework: Relevant, Resonant, Different. 'Relevant' is where we consider whether or not an idea is a good brand fit. We typically ask ourselves questions like:
- Does this idea put the brand in a good light?
- Does this idea seem credible coming from this brand?
- Does it avoid seeming too self-serving (pushing their products/services)?
I feel that this piece fails on all counts.
The piece clearly does not put the brand in a good light. Christopher Ingragam put it beautifully in the Washington Post:
Microsoft frames never-ending labor and connectivity as a way to "help balance life's demands." I'd counter that if you're writing earnings reports on the toilet, your work-life balance needs more life and less work.
However, let's imagine for a second that those crazy stats had never been released, and that infographic had never been created. Would anyone have covered it? Would anyone have shared it?
Even if there was no disconnect between the message Microsoft wanted to communicate and the message their content sent, I still think that what Microsoft would have ultimately ended up with was a self-serving piece of content. I doubt it would have recieved much in the way of coverage or shares because it exists purely to push Microsoft's own agenda: the adoption of Office 365. It benefits no one but them.
In closing dear reader, I find it somewhat heartening to note that even the biggest, most successful companies aren't immune from making mistakes; and if we can learn from their mistakes (and avoid making similar ones ourselves) perhaps we owe a debt of gratitude.
Here's to you Office 365! And all the lives you've ruined.