Microsoft attempted to fire back at Apple’s “Get a Mac” television campaign with their “I’m a PC” ads, but have again been put in their place by the latest round of the Mac-maker’s commercials.
Since mid-2006, the “Get a Mac” series of TV commercials starring John Hodgman as PC and Justin Long as Mac have helped Apple make large gains in the personal computer market. Over the past two and a half years, Apple has consistently pumped out new ads which use the familiar characters to showcase the benefits of switching to a Mac and the downfalls of Microsoft’s Windows Disaster… err, I mean Vista.
After years of abuse, Microsoft finally responded with their much-publicized $300 million advertising campaign to help convince the general public that Vista really isn’t as bad as it seems. The Adventures of Seinfeld and Gates aside, the company’s main concept for the campaign was to show a John Hodgman lookalike who says “I’m a PC and I’ve been turned into a stereotype.” The rest of the commercials consist of a number of people in different settings (supposedly) proudly proclaiming “I’m a PC” over and over again.
The main flaw with Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” commercials was that they never actually combatted the actual criticisms about Vista. Instead, they reverted back to their old adage of, “Look how many people are using Windows. It’s popular, so it’s clearly be the best.” Yes, Windows has a huge lead in market share… we get it, Microsoft. But people are slowly starting to understand strength in numbers doesn’t necessarily equate to quality in the computer world.
The folks who put together Microsoft’s ads surely thought they had Apple beat since they mocked the PC character and dismissed him as nonsense. That’s enough to make Apple give up and hide in their corner, right? Well, not quite. Over the weekend, Apple launched two new “Get a Mac” commercials that directly respond to what Microsoft has been up to. They’re vicious attacks on the company’s entire ideology, but it’s done in such a light-hearted and humorous way that most people won’t even realize how vicious they truly are. That’s the beauty of the whole series of ads — Apple is doing some serious bashing, but the tone is so playful that most people generally aren’t turned off by it. Instead, you kind of feel bad for the likable PC because he’s like that friend who just doesn’t realize he’s going about life the wrong way. You want to help, but it’s really a lost cause.
So what exactly does Apple do in the latest round of “Get a Mac” ads? In the first one, titled V Word, Mac finds PC holding a big red button. He asks what’s going on and PC responds that he’s not referring to his operating system by name anymore. When Mac tries to say the word “Vista,” PC presses the button and a buzz noise drowns him out. They have a little fun with it, talking about how PC would rather say “Windows” even though it’s the same as “Vista,” but that’s the gist of it. Anyone who has seen Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” ads knows what Apple is going for here. Those commercials never mention Vista by name. The only branding at all is a quick 2 or 3 second screen that says “Windows. Life without walls.” Clearly this was done intentionally by Microsoft to avoid the negative connotations that have plagued Vista since before its release, and Apple was poking a bit of fun at their inability to realize people can see right through it.
The second ad, however, is the true masterpiece. It could be be one of the best of the entire series due to its comedic value and eye-opening commentary about Microsoft’s way of thinking. Titled Bean Counter, it finds PC sorting large amounts of cash between budgets for advertising and budgets for fixing Vista’s problems. When Mac brings up the fact that the much smaller “Fix Vista” pile is probably not enough to really fix it, PC thinks about it for a second and says “I guess you’re right” while pushing it all into the “Advertising” pile. The timing is perfect and the message is loud and clear. Apple wants people to know that Microsoft isn’t really interested in providing a better quality product because that would take too much work. They would rather just throw gobs of money at advertising in an attempt to fool as many people as possible. Whether you’re a Mac or PC user, you have to appreciate the clever ways Apple conveys their ideas. It is truly unique and original — marketing brilliance at its best.
People often complain that Apple doesn’t spend enough time outlining the specific reasons why Macs OS X is so much better than Windows. The fact is that they do — it’s just not as obvious as most people are accustomed to seeing in other ads. Literally showing screen captures of Leopard on a TV screen would be both boring and confusing to people watching at home. It’s hard to explain operating system features while showing them on-screen in 30 seconds. To avoid these issues, Apple tackles them more conceptually and brings them to life through their established Mac and PC characters. Check out the commercials where Apple talks about backups made easy with Time Machine, or Apple Store Geniuses copying files from your old PC to your new Mac, or how every Mac comes with an iSight webcam built in. You’ll also notice references to how Macs can run Microsoft Office, how Leopard is a critically acclaimed operating system, and how they are the number one selling notebook on college campuses. These all tackle the advantages of buying a Mac, but it doesn’t feel like they do because it’s done so effortlessly.
Apple’s ads are so great because they’re short comedy skits that the general public will chuckle at before moving on when the next commercial comes on. Apple doesn’t necessarily want people to jump off their couches and head to the Apple Store right away, nor do they want to run serious hit pieces against Microsoft that might give them bad PR. What makes them effective is that by seeing these seemingly innocent commercials with some good-natured ribbing over the course of months or years, it subconsciously affects peoples’ perception of Microsoft and makes them more likely to consider switching to Mac when the time comes for a new computer. They are selling the idea of switching to a Mac and moving on from Windows, rather than the Mac computer itself. Obviously, Apple’s gains in market share since the launch of the “Get a Mac” campaign proves that they have been wildly successful at selling this idea thus far.
Watch Apple’s latest “Get a Mac” ads at Apple.com.