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It was early October of 2014, and Microsoft was working hard to finish producing its first-ever Super Bowl commercial. The advertising team had strung together audio clips from CEO Satya Nadella’s recent speeches about empowerment, and overlaid video of kids using Microsoft technology to help improve their lives.

As the company previewed the commercial for a number of folks, the reaction was all positive.

“We loved how Satya’s voice sounded,” recalled Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Caposella. “It’s just got a poetry to it — really beautiful and very powerful.”

But just before shipping the commercial, Caposella sat down with Nadella to get his final approval.

“I love this spot, but you’re not going to use my voice, right?” the CEO asked his marketing chief.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at Microsoft Envision in New Orleans last week.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at Microsoft Envision in New Orleans last week.

Caposella explained that everyone working on the project loved Nadella’s voice on the commercials — everyone, it turned out, except for Nadella himself.

The CEO slept on the idea and met with Caposella the next day.

“I just can’t do it — it’s too narcissistic, and it’s not who we are,” he concluded.

Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela speaks at Microsoft Envision in New Orleans last week.
Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela speaks at Microsoft Envision in New Orleans last week.

That forced the advertising team to quickly pivot and find another voice for the commercials. After watching the demo reel with Nadella’s voice, some potential candidates wondered why Microsoft was still reaching out to others.

“They would say that we already had it with whoever’s voice it was,” Caposella explained. “Of course, it was Satya. We were like, ‘yeah, yeah, we tried that, but we couldn’t get that person to agree.'”

Ultimately, it was rapper Common whose voice was heard by millions around the world during those Super Bowl commercials and in several follow-up spots thereafter.

“If you were to listen to the audiotape of Common explaining why he wanted to be the voice, it was just so spot on with the brand of Microsoft, and how excited he was to work with us,” said Caposella, speaking with reporters at Microsoft’s recent Envision conference in New Orleans.

Caposella added that Common, a three-time Grammy Award-winning artist who won an Academy Award in 2015, also brought much more than just a nice voice and a successful brand name, noting his philanthropic and social efforts as well.

“It was such a great fit,” he said. “Here was an American artist who was about empowerment. He was all about the impact he personally could have beyond the recording star, and we felt that really fit with Satya’s mission.”

Microsoft loved working with Common on those Super Bowl commercials so much that it asked him to be the voice behind other spots related to the company’s cloud division and “brand moments,” as Caposella described.

“It’s been really wonderful,” Caposella said. “He’s an incredibly classy person and we are really privileged to have him doing it.”

This actually isn’t the first time Microsoft and Common — who is a bit of a geek himself — have worked together. Funny enough, they teamed up back in 2008 to launch a “SoftWear” retro clothing line, which featured MS-DOS fonts and a mugshot of Bill Gates. Here are a few photos from the SoftWear launch eight years ago:

Featured photo by Luigi Novi, via Wikimedia Commons

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