by James Gesner
What is Technology? That is the question that begins Microsoft’s 2014 Superbowl commercial. That question is displayed across our screen, and is being asked by Steve Gleason, a former NFL player, who is now living with ALS. ALS is a disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, impairing mobility and speech. Technology has allowed Steve to ponder his question to us, “What is technology? What can it do? How far can we go?” Even if Microsoft had stopped there, and not gone on with further examples in the commercial, the audience gains an abundant of pathos with seeing this man being given a voice, and able to communicate with his little boy.
Pathos is the emotional connection with the audience, the feelings that are being evoked through this medium and material. This ad by Microsoft is filled with emotions. The range goes from joy, empathy, inspiration, happiness, to a feeling of wonder, and more. There are moments, like with Steve Gleason being able to communicate now, through use of this robotic voice that is narrating our commercial, and talking with his young child, that can play at your heart. The title of the commercial is “Empowering.” Which it is, and it conveys that message clearly and gives us the audience a clear message of an empowering, emotional message of: Technology can bring people together, technology can change people’s lives for the better, and technology is the future. A deaf woman comes across our screen, hearing for the very first time, and a little girl sees her father, who is thousands miles away deployed by the military, but gets to see her on their laptop thanks to technology and Microsoft. In the regard of pathos, and Aristotle’s proof of rhetoric, this Super Bowl ad connects on an emotional level.
Logos for this ad was lacking compared with the pathos. Logos is the logic behind the message, and why it’s being conveyed to the audience. The logic may be more subtle, or lacking in comparison to the pathos, but it did not out right fail in its delivery. When the narrator, who the audience knows is Gleason says “technology has taken us places we have only dreamed,” we are than shown the launch of one of America’s successful shuttles to space. This is logical, because we have successfully been to the moon and the international space station, and deployed rovers to other planets and satellites into deep space. But, America no longer has an active space program involving human manned shuttles to the moon or even a shuttle program at all anymore. The narrator, Gleason, also tells the audience that technology has “given voice to the voiceless,” and, “gives hope to the hopeless,” while splicing images of the woman being given the miracle of hearing for the first time, and the countless children and wounded veterans and others being given mechanical and robotic prosthesis, so that they could walk again, or gain use of a lost arm. This is a more logical statement and claim, that is then reinforced with facts of logical visual proof that is given to the audience.
But, Microsoft does not give the audience any statistics on what an average disabled person in need of a prosthesis would be receiving and how it would be dependent on their healthcare coverage, and other factors. Microsoft logos in this regard is lacking, and the audience cannot be certain that every piece of robotics or mechanical device shown in this ad is built by Microsoft. Microsoft, from a logical viewpoint, is a software developer first, and is just in the past decade been entering into the hardware side of manufacturing. The audience does not understand if what they are being shown are things that are built by Microsoft, being run by Microsoft programming, or just are partners of Microsoft that get their funding. Plus, the average consumer who is watching the Super Bowl is not in need of a prosthetic limb, never mind an advanced piece of robotic technology. Logic asks, who is Microsoft really targeting with this advertisement? And why should the general audience care, outside of the great pathos presented?
This leads to the ethos, or the credibility of the advertisement. The Microsoft Super Bowl commercial begins with text explaining the condition of our narrator, as a current ALS survivor. The voice given to Steve Gleason is one of the standard robotic sounding voices. This adds to the commercials theme of technology, but it is also the voice present in the software that Steve uses to communicate. By introducing us first to Steve Gleason and telling us who he is, what he is suffering from and then showing us how technology is serving him to be the audiences narrator, it builds immediate ethos with their audience. We are then shown images of doctors using a Microsoft device to help explain to a patient, and the audience, how this new CT Imaging technology works. This is another example of ethos; the doctors are an authority figure, one of a social standing who has agency to tell us that this technology is credible and valid and good. Microsoft has an identity that they are trying to push the boundaries of. Microsoft is trying to push past the boundary of software developer and small hardware manufacture, and are showing us people of agency using their tools for far more complex procedures and devices. Microsoft is therefore showing us that their technology benefits all people shown in this commercial, from all different backgrounds of age, gender, race, and abilities or disabilities.
In conclusion, the ad is very successful in covering the proofs of rhetoric. Pathos, logos, and ethos do all have their strengths and/or weaknesses throughout the video as mentioned, but the audience is shown a great balance between them, for a commercial that is effective in delivering on its title: “Empowering.” Microsoft uses positive words, then positive images to reinforce their ideas and their product line. They do a great job especially connecting on an emotional level, using their technology to advance medical education, to connect loved ones, and help those with disabilities. The audience now associates Microsoft with helping these people, not just as that “Windows” company. It does a great job of becoming a technology company by the end of the commercial. It has successfully advertised its product, and shown that it is furthering its and our uses of technology for the future, and showed us how and why it is doing it.