Microsoft, with agency m:unlimited//mccann, took the top gong at the 4A’s Jay Chiat Awards, with a piece of work that launched an adaptive controller to widen access to its Xbox gaming console; by approaching an under-regarded problem faced by many people around the world, Microsoft was able to tell an innovation story on a large scale.  

Now in their 23rd year, The Jay Chiat Awards are a global competition held by the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies) each year, and reward the best strategic thinking and breakthrough insights that lead to impactful marketing execution.

The Grand-Prix-winning case study from Microsoft was notable for several reasons.

In recent years, under CEO Satya Nadella, who took over the top spot in 2014, Microsoft has seen some big changes. Not least, the brand’s famous aim of wanting a “PC on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software” has shifted to bringing the full suite of the company’s capabilities to a much larger addressable market.

This specific campaign tapped into two important and overlapping communities: first, it aimed at a US market of 33 million gamers with disabilities – according to the case study – but spoke globally. Around 15%, roughly a billion, of the world’s inhabitants experience some form of disability: a large, diverse, and important constituency.

The second community is gaming – in total, that comprises the 86% of internet users who have played at least once in the last month – or, more conservatively, just under a quarter of all people who play on consoles such as the Xbox.

The work spoke to an important constituency of a booming market, one that Accenture puts ahead of the populations of Japan, Germany, and the UK in terms of purchasing power.

For all gamers, part of the fun comes from being able to do what you can’t in real life. For gamers with disabilities, however, “it’s one of the only times people with disabilities feel treated as an equal to those without, since their opponents don’t see their disability on-screen”. As one person puts it in the case study, “There’s a joy in being able to take an avatar and have her run barefoot through the grass because I can’t. My avatar is as able as yours.”

Adaptive products are beginning to enter mainstream business consciousness. Recently, Tommy Hilfiger, the clothing brand, launched a line of adaptive clothing, which featured a host of really clever innovations designed to make clothing easier to put on: magnetically enhanced zippers, quiet Velcro, magnetic fastening, and back-openings for seated wear to name a few. These innovations don’t only expand the addressable market but also give brands something worth telling the world about.

Microsoft is an innovative company but is often bogged down in an association with productivity. With this campaign, the firm wanted to better articulate its brand mission: “To empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Innovative companies grow, but innovations also boost marketing effectiveness. According to Les Binet and Peter Field, “Advertising and marketing works better when you’ve got new news about new products. And the more radical the innovation, the bigger the effect.” Like Microsoft’s radical innovation of an adaptive controller, along with adaptive packaging that could be opened by people with limited or no use of arms or hands.

To bring the idea to life, and to speak to an audience beyond those for whom the adaptive controller was intended, Microsoft sought scale. With a spot that featured the voices of the product’s users, the company bought ad space during the Super Bowl, following a couple of days trailing on the company’s owned channels.

Key to the work, and noted in the case study, was the absence of pity: the controller’s intended users weren’t depicted as sufferers or objects of sympathy, but as gamers with whom design had not yet caught up.

In a context of diminishing trust in big tech, the campaign triggered not only a series of increases in innovation and gaming associations, but also led to competitors like Google opening up their platforms for compatibility with the controller.

All the winners of the 2019 Jay Chiat Awards were announced during the 2019 Strategy Festival held by the 4A’s in New York City. WARC subscribers can view many of the winning entries here.

Sourced from WARC, Accenture; additional content by WARC staff