One thing is certain, if Microsoft has decided to rehabilitate the image of the PC in response to Apple’s long running Mac campaign (“Hi, I’m a Mac. And I’m a PC.”), it must be getting to them. For years the Apple Macintosh brand has pummeled the image of PCs in general, and Windows in particular, by characterizing them as slow, frustrating, susceptible to viruses, and, most of all, in utter denial about all of their own shortcomings. While this is often a risky strategy, Apple is able to do it without ever naming a competitive brand of computer. Instead it disparages an entire category. It’s a classic case of anti-branding the competition while building your own brand strength. The Macintosh brand has always been about breaking the mold. Think back to 1984 when Macs were first introduced, and one of the most famous commercials of all time positioned it as destroying the mind-controlled dystopia of IBM and traditional computing. The Macintosh of that time did indeed change computing. So much so that when the Windows operating system was introduced in 1985, it imitated (some say stole) many of the best features of Macs in order to level the playing field. Mouse-driven cursors, drop-down menus and file icons all appeared to be imitating the Mac user experience. And because Windows was an open source product, software for PC flourished. PC users are people too, gosh darn it! Fast-forward to this century, and Macs have never established a large share of the market but continue to hold a brand position that is premium and hip, more user-friendly and yet more stylish. But admit it, if you are a PC user (and you probably are) you felt a little of the sting from the fun the campaign has had at the expense of PCs. PC users report feeling that the Macintosh experience may indeed be more enjoyable, but they are locked into their machines by company systems, software compatibility, or simply cost constraints. More recently Windows has been battling a widely held belief that its new Vista operating system is no better than its predecessor (Windows XP) and can be more cumbersome. And in spot after spot, Mac makes fun of PCs, Vista, and, to some extent, the people who use them.
The Empire strikes out?
Now, finally, Windows is fighting back with a mildly interesting campaign that mimics the language of the Mac spots by opening with numerous people spouting, “I’m a PC.” The gist of the campaign is that PC users are a diverse group of people across the globe who use their (PC) computers to empower their work life, enhance their personal life and help them through the day. (Who knew?) The people in the spots are a mix of Microsoft employees and PC users around the world. The actual employees have email addresses superimposed over their appearances. If you send an email to any of them, you get an automated reply written in conversational tone of self-deprecating humor, but it may be just a little too good to believe that it’s real and not professionally prepared copy. (Try sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to see what we mean.) Where will this campaign lead? It is certainly fresh for the Windows brand but not highly imaginative and lacking any of the entertainment value and beguiling humor of the Macintosh campaign. And since it took years for Microsoft to even respond at all, it could be perceived as inconsequential, while inadvertently echoing the central message of the Mac campaign, which is Macs are really cool. Apple has already responded with two commercials poking fun at Windows for spending far more money to promote Vista as acceptable while spending virtually nothing to fix the continuing problems with the system.
This is a classic case of the risk and reward at stake when one brand references or even just alludes to another in their advertising. Apple pulls it off with entertaining spots that are right on the message of their brand and they succeed, in no small part because they are an underdog. Windows/Microsoft finally responds and ends up reinforcing the Apple/Mac point of view because their effort was minimal, predictable and easily turned against them. You would think that a company with 93% market share despite inferior products would leave well enough alone. Score this round for Apple.