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New Apple and Microsoft Ads Fail

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I’m not loving new “Get a Mac” and “Laptop Hunters” commercials that debuted this week. After four homers, Microsoft fouls out with “Lauren and Sue.” Apple  simply strikes out with “Elimination,” which is sorry response to Microsoft’s Laptop Hunters series.

Lauren and Sue debut tonight in Prime Time, although their 60-sec spot already is online. Lauren, a blonde bombshell, is the best thing about the commercial. Otherwise it’s a disastrous stereotype of the other four. Worse, the ad doesn’t feel real, unlike the others. From just one viewing I came away feeling somebody staged most of the interaction. The feeling intensified repeatedly watching the ad. Perhaps someone botched the editing.

The Mac jab is groundless mockery, whereas the other commercials made valid digs about Apple laptops’ shortcomings.

The four earlier ads followed clear progressions, each adding something to the previous ones:

  • Budgets moved from $1,000 to $1,500 to $2,000
  • Each emphasized different points of value within the budgets
  • The protagonists all were “every shoppers” meaning you or me
  • The purchased notebooks looked better in each of the commercials

By comparison, the Lauren and Sue ad flops because:

  • The budget goes down to the odd price of $1,700
  • There’s no real value gained for the price paid
  • Lauren doesn’t feel like every shopper or someone who would buy a Dell
  • Dude, she got a Dell—and it’s kind of ugly for about $1,000

“I’m about to be a law student, and portability is important to me,” Lauren explains. That statement means she will likely end up with a laptop with 14-inch or smaller display. Lauren and her mom shop at Best Buy, first looking at some larger Windows laptops. Size matters to Lauren, and smaller is better. She moves on to Best Buy’s mini-Apple store.

“This Mac is $2,000, and that’s before adding anything,” Lauren says about the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro. Oh? What about the $1,599 MacBook, Lauren, which is in your budget, has the same size screen as the Dell and meets your criteria of “speed, portability and battery life?” The MacBook weighs less, too. Granted, the MacBook costs $600 more than the Dell, but its design compliments your beauty and suits law school (Aren’t lawyers very image conscious?).

Mom Sue asks, “Why would you pay twice the price?” “I wouldn’t,” Lauren answers. But the MacBook Pro isn’t twice the price of her budget. It is twice the price of the Dell Studio XPS 13 she buys. But, supposedly, at this point in the commercial, Lauren hasn’t made her choice yet. So how can the MacBook Pro be twice the price? The interaction feels staged, where something is out of sequence.

Safely back in the Windows PC section, Lauren coos over a pink Sony VAIO laptop: “I like the color of this one.” Have you seen movie “Legally Blonde,” Lauren? The Sony would have been a good choice for you at law school.

Lauren pays $971.99 for her Dell—the last one—that comes with 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor (3MB cache/1066MHz front-side bus), 13.3-inch display (1280 x 800 resolution), 4GB of DDR3 memory, nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics, 320GB hard drive (7200 rpm), DVD burner, 802.11 b/g/n and Windows Vista Home Premium Service Pack 1 64-bit.

I like Apple’s “Elimination” commercial even less. It’s a bad stereotype of all the earlier commercials, and it mocks them, too. This is Apple’s response to Microsoft’s effective Laptop Hunters campaign? It’s awfully weak and condescends most would-be buyers.

Microsoft rightly created its Laptop Hunters campaign around fundamentals of computer shopping:

  • There are clear buying criteria, like screen size and performance
  • People have fixed budgets
  • Among Windows PCs there are many choices (and few among Macs)
  • Value matters—getting the most features for the lowest price

Elimination opens with the Mac and PC characters and computer shopper Megan. Behind PC is a long line of the suit-wearing, uncool looking PC characters. Megan wants a “big screen” and a ” fast processor” and something else: “I just need something that works without crashing or viruses or a ton of headaches.: That criteria eliminates all the PCs.

Apple really blows the messaging, which comes down to this: After eliminating all the reasons for buying a computer, the only choice is a Mac. Of course, those reason, which include price and value, don’t matter. They can’t in the Apple universe, because Macs cost so much more than PCs. Lauren’s Dell is good example. It’s fairly comparable to the $1,599 MacBook for about $600 less.

By the way, I would have thought much more of Microsoft’s commercial had Sue been looking at the MacBook. She saved a bunch of money on the Dell XPS 13, for basically equivalent hardware. That comparison would be effective marketing.

Going back to Apple, Get a Mac is tired out. The metaphor no longer satisfies. It’s boring. Apple needs something fresher and more inviting. It’s time to recycle Misters “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC.”

Editor’s Note March 30, 2014: Apple and Microsoft pulled the original videos, which are replaced with, sadly, lower-quality alternatives.


  1. Trevor says on May 14, 2009

    Malware for the mac is on the rise, a year from now all these smarmy Apple adds that poke fun at PC security will come back and bite Apple in the A*s.

  2. bill the mill says on May 14, 2009

    “I just need something that works without crashing or viruses or a ton of headaches.: That criteria eliminates all the PCs.

    I have a PC but it doesn’t crash and I don’t have any viruses because I’m running Linux. I don’t want to reheat the fanboy debate but if these are your main criteria you are looking for in a computer Linux might be a good fit. There are certainly other areas where a Windows based PC or a Mac is better suited – I don’t disagree here at all.

  3. Lloyd says on May 14, 2009

    spot on analysis. The hunters ad could have been great, but they blew the editing, it seems.

    The Get a Mac ad is just pathetic and reaching, but it follows the trend of constantly ridiculing PC’s in general and the people who use them. The security and virii slant is dated and irrelevant on modern Windows Vista and 7 PC’s. The Windows Integrity Mechanism works and its layers best secure a connected computer. IE 7/8’s default Protected Mode, the UIPI brokering agent and secure-able objects place traffic outside of user space and insulate users from their own bad habits. With the added SmartScreen filters in IE 8, it is even more secure and this is all before traffic reaches outside of the browser, which runs with very low privileges.

    I could go on and on with more examples and details about it, but suggest that Joe perhaps examine it and write it up in ways that more people would benefit from. Something on the order of Windows Security Today, which is truly quite good and certainly far better than OS X in this context.

  4. billybob says on May 15, 2009

    Trevor, we have been hearing that for years now. So far all we have seen are a few Trojans, wake us up when you see a worm.

    We also keep hearing from the Windows fans that all OSs are insecure and people only attack Windows because it is popular. Is Vista’s unpopularity the reason for it’s security? Will all the security companies now stop selling anti-virus?

    The Windows security model is upside down and very very annoying. It certainly brings lots of headaches. Windows still has plenty of programs running as administrator and from what I can tell, hackers can easily piggyback on them instead of having to bypass UAC.

  5. Chip says on May 15, 2009

    I think these two new ads are both timely, as they highlight a dramatic distinction between how the two companies view themselves.

    Microsoft is promoting a computing machine, while Apple is promoting a computing experience.

    Lauren wants a computer of a certain speed, portability and battery life (and color, possibly), while Megan wants a computer that works without crashing or viruses or a ton of headaches.

    By ignoring price in their ads, Apple reveals that it can’t match Microsoft PCs on price, but can offer a great computing machine and experience.

    By ignoring computing experience in their ads, Microsoft reveals that it can’t match Apple on experience, but can offer a great computing machine and price.

    No matter how subtle this message might be, it seems to reveal a large lack of confidence by Microsoft in its products.

  6. whatever says on May 15, 2009

    I don’t think it would matter if Apple Mac unit share grew by 1000 percent YoY and the iPhone became the best selling phone in China; you’ve decided it’ll make for great content that now it is Microsoft’s turn to be popular to the point where you compare OSes that haven’t gone gold (Windows 7) to OSes that you most certainly haven’t seen or used yet (Snow Leopard).

    I’m not saying you’re a Microsoft fanboy, i’m saying you’re not truly analysing anything, but have been spouting your pre-determined notion that now that Apple has gone up hugely it will go down and MS up for months.

    Yes Apple had a great run the last 3 years and that’s thanks to Vista. Intel transition? iPod and iPhone? Leopard? Contributing to Mac adoption? What’s this halo effect nonsense people keep mentioning?

    Let me guess the next few posts if i may-

    .) Apple’s only successful business is selling sugar water iPods. – oh sorry, that one’s taken Joe.
    .) Steve Jobs is a goner and with it Apple’s future.
    .) Microsoft’s Zune HD promises to be a sensation.
    .) (wierd Nokia infatuation interlude) Nokia to take over the world one quarterly loss at a time.
    .) Windows 7 release date set, Mac death watch started.
    .) App Store hits 2 billion downloads, eco system is unsustainable and on the brink of collapse.

  7. Apple’s run would continue longer if not for:

    * The economy. Apple can’t escape people’s falling budgets.

    * Microsoft marketing, which suddenly, and surprisingly, is pretty good.

    * Steve Jobs’ illness. He matters more than Wall Street analysts want anyone to believe.

    I’m by no means anti-Apple, nor pro-Microsoft. Apple’s future isn’t the Mac but the App Store. Right now, iPhone isn’t good enough. Battery life sucks and the battery can’t be swapped out. Background applications are prevented. But iPhone touch with App Store is hugely promising and can carry Apple forward until it gets the iPhone right–and that won’t be before 2010, unless an iPhone tablet/touchscreen netbook releases this year.

    As for those future stories you suggested:

    * Apple isn’t a goner without Steve Jobs, but his absence will hurt.

    * Zune HD will not likely be a sensation, certainly not without worldwide distribution. But it’s the right place for Microsoft to go. The iPhone touch is much more important than iPhone right now. Zune HD is a non-starter unless it runs apps from the Windows Mobile store.

    * Nokia will launch Ovi store for 400 million handsets. That’s a huge install base, much of it in international markets where the cell phone is the primary computing device.

    * Windows 7’s release is not the end of Apple. Most analysts calculate marketshare based on what’s shipping, and there Macs are declining. But the install base is bigger than three years ago, and it’s basis for continued growth in markets like Hollywood or among journalism schools.

    * Two billion downloads would be tremendously good.

    Something else?

  8. You raise a good point, Lloyd. Microsoft has a PR problem of its own creation: The monthly security patches. People tend to forget that, aside from zero-day exploits, Microsoft acts proactively. The releases are security due diligence.

    But Microsoft can’t escape the shadow ecosystem. The company succeeded by creating a platform around which an ecosystem of developers, resellers and hardware manufacturers could make money. But there is a shadow ecosystem, too, where people profit by exploiting the platform’s weaknesses.

    Criminals sell Windows exploits and Windows users’ stolen credentials, social security numbers and bank account information on eBay-like marketplaces.

    I’ve long asserted that Windows succeeded because it allowed so many third parties to many money. Some of them are parasites. In nature, many parasites serve important roles. Can the same be said for computing?

  9. whatever says on May 15, 2009

    oh one more thing i’d like to comment on.

    As for all those stupid ads (Apple’s and Microsoft’s) – what are we Marketing critics now? The IT web is obsessed with this rubbish.

    Can you imagine a automotive nerd arguing the merits of a Honda ad versus a Toyota ad on some car forum? Oh boy I can’t wait until we collectively compare and measure the amount of ‘sass’ in their legal documents!

    “Have you seen how much shorter the Mac OS X EULA is compared to the Windows one? Now THAT is the sign of a quality company, my friend..”

    btw, thanks Lloyd for some much needed technical content. I agree Vista’s security measures are great and Microsoft’s SDL is a model much emulated in dev for good reasons. I would argue 2 things though.

    Firstly, that OSX’s .) automated app signing, integrated with
    .)a kernel-level sandboxing (and pretty powerful rules engine) system as used on many network services
    .) an application level firewall
    .) ASLR (although hampered by non-randomized dyld)
    .) Mandatory password protected priviledge escalation
    security features are pretty good.

    Secondly, let’s not forget that xp is still sold on brand new computers today. Right now. And it’s security design deficiencies are well documented. My point is that Microsoft can’t really claim the security superiority while at the same time hawking old software because they can’t make the new software perform adequately on sections of the hardware pie.

  10. whatever says on May 15, 2009

    Yes, couple of things –

    .) thanks for taking the time to reply.

    .) Some of what you’re saying here does not gel with what your articles over the last few months said.

    .) The economy hurts everyone. Some nicely hysteric Microsoft gloom on the web if you’re interested.

    .) Marketing is nice, grass roots are better. Tell me, how many people rave on about their Apple wares? How many of the Silicon Valley / Web 2.0 crowd are Mac users?

    .) There are gaping holes in the hull of the good ship Nokia that you’re not even acknowledging.

    .) As for Windows 7, I’d love to have your ability of comparing non-RTM software with not publicly released software.

  11. I don’t see inconsistencies, but you are reading more my opinion and analysis here than at either Apple Watch or Microsoft Watch. There my role was reporting and analysis for a more IT audience. This is my blog, which reflects more my thinking and analysis. I’m freer here to say what I believe. Anything that “does not gel” is because of this nuance in role: Analyst versus reporter.

  12. Interesting, Joe. I’ve looked at that aspect of the discussion and in some great sense, I do believe that the parasitical side of the ecosystem actually benefited Microsoft and other software. Just as continuously connected computing took hold, Microsoft began its trustworthy computing initiative and began the process of baking security into the development process.

    I do believe that their early set-backs were a good thing and it drove them and the industry to respond effectively. Now the question remains that without the attacks and exploitation, would the initiative have been required in the first place?

    I recall very well when all our homes didn’t have locks at all and equally, commercials on television reminding us to lock our cars and take our keys – it was common practice to simply leave one’s keys in the ignition for hours at a time while in town, or the city. Similarly, I also recall a time before the commercial exploitation of Internet technologies when we left systems open so they could be accessed by anyone. It was always assumed that they would be both competent and trustworthy. So it seems that Winodws is quite secure, because it must be and soon, so must OS X and other less well examined *nix.

  13. Amen! It is a welcome perspective to read, Joe – more of ‘why’ your assessments are what they are and as well as more about ‘what’ is behind your opinions. That is exactly what a great blog is all about and unfortunately, too much of what we expect of journalism isn’t what it used to be. Of course the same is happening across all media of all types and it is confusing to many people.

    @those sensitive to Apple’s current position, I think that the dated references to virii and Trojans, et al, on Windows is going to bite them. OS X’s/*nixs’ risks are in the area of remote code exploits and in the case of OS X there some 70 known and oft used methods to gain complete control of the system. They got ASLR wrong, among other things. Similarly, I just can’t see how they are going to leverage multi/many core systems well under their current architecture. Mach presents a ceiling and I do not know how they will move past it. Finally, Mac users would do very well to understand that extremely capable people have been exploiting the Unicies/Multices for decades – and they’re good at it. Apple needs to drop the virii mantra, and quick.

  14. whatever says on May 17, 2009

    A few corrections:

    Mach is not a hindrance to mutlicore systems; in fact none of today’s kernels are the primary hindrance to multicore systems.

    Application development environments, complexity with threading and resource locking are the primary hindrance in multicore.

    As for Apple’s touting of lack of viruses, crashes and headaches this is accurate. They are after all not touting the most robust library randomisation technology or best collection of antispyware sofware. This lack of hassles, combined with ease of use is a big competitive advantage and so they should, nay must tout it.

    Just as Microsoft must tout the breadth of choice and cheap purchase options.

  15. whatever says on May 18, 2009

    Philosophically this is sound, but practically it just doesn’t make sense as these ‘parasites’ do not contribute to an ecosystem’s momentum. They don’t spend any ad dollars on pushing their products that sit within the ecosystem, they are no reason or appeal to buy into the ecosystem, etc. So in this case no i don’t think the same can be said for computing.

    The important role parasites if any are the bottom rung badly written software products or cheap hardware with badly written drivers that on the one hand propel the ecosystems ubiquity, utility and affordability and on the other hand drag the quality of the experience down with it.

  16. \"By the way, I would have thought much more of Microsoft’s commercial had Sue been looking at the MacBook. She saved a bunch of money on the Dell XPS 13, for basically equivalent hardware. That comparison would be effective marketing.\"

    I thought the rule was: \"If you find a laptop that meets the criteria, then we (microsoft) will pay the laptop for you.\" So if the Dell XPS and the MacBook both meet the criteria, then it doesn\’t matter if the MacBook is more expensive, because Microsoft is paying for it. She doesn\’t lose any money in any case, and she doesn\’t save any money if she chooses the more expensive MacBook.

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