Deceptive Microsoft Advertising or Just Good Business?

Before we review this Xbox One S ad, let’s take a moment to look at this situation from a different perspective, a more personal view into my life. Who am I you ask? My name is Jack McBastard, and I’m a handsome man with a nice car.

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*photo may differ from actual product

The above statement is 100% factual and in no way deceptive, until it is made in proximity to this photo, then two problems become immediately apparent. First of all, this is not a photo of me, this is a photo of Stephan Winkelmann former President and CEO of Lamborghini, and second my car (though nice) is not the Lamborghini that Winklemann (also nice) is standing next to. And though I love long walks on the beach and candlelit dinners, if I were writing up a profile on a dating service using this text and photo, I’d wager that many women would still be upset at the misrepresentation.

Context is important, and while the statement on its own may be accurate, contextually by being placed next to that photo it creates a certain impression in the reader’s mind that may or may not be accurate. Are you to blame for making the assumption, or am I to blame for creating the context that led to your assumption?

With that hamfisted example out of the way, let’s look at this Xbox One S ad that Microsoft has running currently:

Let’s unpack this video. We see Chet, the vaguely Tyler Labine-esque Microsoft surrogate, trying to explain to his elderly grandmother Dolores how the new XBox One S has “4K Ultra HD Resolution”, to which Dolores responds “It looks so sharp”. To be clear, nothing said in this video is inaccurate. The Xbox One S does have an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive, which in fact allows UHD media to be played in 4k. The Xbox One S will also upscale games to 4k, but to be fair so will a SNES connected to a 4k television. Regardless, this is an accurate statement.

The problem lies with the context that is created for the delivery of this message. Chet and Dolores are not watching a UHD Blu-ray movie while this information is relayed, they’re playing a game of Madden NFL ’17.

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Headsets on, controllers in hand, Dolores mashing those triggers for all she’s worth, god bless her. In the context of Chet and Dolores having a friendly game of Madden NFL ’17, like many of us do with our grandparents from time to time, the message seems to be saying that the Xbox One S can deliver 4K Ultra HD Resolution from games like the one they’re playing, which prompts Chet to relay this fact to his grandmother. Repeatedly.

Outside this ad, there is also the larger context of sales during Christmas 2016. On November 10th 2016, Sony released the PlayStation 4 Pro which can deliver true 4K gaming in some games (though most are upscaled from 1400-1800p to 4k resolutions), HDR, and even improve HD graphics and/or frame rate for those who do not have a 4K television.

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After three months of NPD victories after the Xbox One S released, Microsoft’s US comeback was cut short in November as sales of the PlayStation 4 Pro pushed Sony back to number one. With double the GPU power of the standard PlayStation (which had an advantage already against the Xbox One and Xbox One S), the PlayStation 4 Pro represents a real threat to Xbox One sales this Christmas. Unless of course, you can create a false equivalency between the systems. If both systems apparently deliver 4K graphics on games, and the Xbox One S is being sold for $349, then that’s a much easier choice.

The fact is that Microsoft has been bombarding media with ads to push the Xbox One S (most amusingly, recently in front of Twitch coverage of the PlayStation Experience 2016) because they’re in a bad position this year. Regardless of what you might think of mid-generational upgrades, the benefits of the PlayStation 4 Pro are tangible and on the market a full year before Microsoft’s answer to 4K gaming, Project Scorpio. Additionally, every time Phil Spencer is asked about the price of Project Scorpio, he always asserts that the system will deliver a premium gaming experience which will naturally come at a “premium price”, indicating that it may be more expensive than we expect for a current generation console. So while Microsoft is apparently poised to deliver a monstrous 6TF of gaming power in Q4 2017, that’s a full year away and gamers are buying systems today.

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Enter Chet and kindly Dolores, to save the day with Madden NFL ’17 playing on the Xbox One S in “4K Ultra HD Resolution”, but no… they don’t say that Madden is in 4K Ultra HD Resolution, just that the Xbox One S has 4K Ultra HD Resolution. Tellingly, even the voiceover at the end of the ad describes the Xbox One S as “the ultimate games and 4K entertainment system” (emphasis mine). That’s a calculated move, made to show a clear differentiation between 4K entertainment and Xbox One games, without drawing attention to that fact while you do so. So while the statement itself may not be false, in the context of Chet and Dolores playing Madden NFL ’17 on the Xbox One S and talking about “4K Ultra HD Resolution”, the message is clearly misleading.

So the question is, are you to blame for thinking that Madden NFL ’17 plays in 4K Ultra HD Resolution? Or are Microsoft to blame for creating the context that might have made you think so?

UPDATE: What’s worse, the original video that used to be at this link has been made private, and re-uploaded on Dec 11th, removing all of the negative comments and down votes on the original video. While the original video had thousands of views and negative comments, at the time of this writing, it only has 26 views and one down vote. Mine. Not that I have anything against the Xbox One S, which is a fine piece of gaming hardware, just something against this ad in particular and the motivation behind it. I reached out to Microsoft’s “Major Nelson” Larry Hyrb on December 11th and again today for comment, but neither Microsoft nor Hyrb responded at the time of publishing.

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Jack McBastard
Editor in Chief and Co-Super President at Digital Fiasco
Hailing from parts unknown, Jack McBastard is more machine than man, twisted and evil. He doesn't agree with the other four dentists, and always stays crispy in milk.
Favorite games include Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, XCOM.