Earlier this afternoon I was contacted by Microsoft on Twitter who are rolling out an “#empowering” campaign, tied in with the tonight’s Superb Owl competition (annual gathering of ornithologists?), aimed at showing the ways Microsoft is changing the world through technology. One such commercial focuses on a young boy named Braylon O’Neill who, with the help of advanced prosthetics, is going to take over enslave the world. Here are some of my initial reactions to the campaign.

Much like my criticism of the #BellLetsTalk campaign from earlier this week, I’m of course a bit squeamish about the leveraging of disability issues/experiences to benefit or improve corporate identity. But looking beyond that surface criticism, I think there are a few things this campaign does really well that should be acknowledged.

One of the most interesting parts of this commercial is that it spends little time narrating Braylon’s disability1 and instead focuses on the ways adaptive technology has augmented his life. Obviously intended to be inspiration, this commercial doesn’t rely on the typical inspiration porn tropes, as it attempts to situate Braylon as a regular kid who happens to use prosthetics (which were, of course, made possible by Microsoft technology). Braylon’s existence is not framed as one of deficit or disfunction, but one of adaptation — I don’t feel that we are meant to feel sorry for him, but are asked to awe in how he isn’t disabled (all thanks to Microsoft…and doctors, but mostly Microsoft!). I think that, on the whole, this is a progressive encounter with disability because it’s focus is empowerment, not the typical shame and/or pity.

From a social marketing perspective, I really like Microsoft’s strategy of actively finding interested people on Twitter and bringing the content to them in a way that doesn’t seem too spammy. Microsoft clearly took the time to figure out who I was and make a personal pitch explaining why they thought I would be interested in this video and campaign writ large rather than simply tweeting me the link and begging for a retweet. This aligns with the ethos of social media, that it’s about engaging and not broadcasting, and will likely pay dividend as the commercial rolls out this evening and makes ripples online into the week.

Those are just some of my initial reactions to the video and the campaign. What were your thoughts?

  1. Note, however, that more time is given to his diagnosis and situating his disability within the extended video featured on the Microsoft page and the commercial itself does spent quite a bit of time situating Braylon within (and the importance of) the medical establishment