What Apple Can Learn from Skittles and Windows XP

by Chris Seibold Apr 04, 2006

There are a significant number of Mac fans walking around in a state of perpetual befuddlement over the lack of Mac advertising in general and OS X in particular. The answer to the question of why Apple doesn’t advertise OS X is, despite the puzzlement of many, obvious. Apple clearly doesn’t believe that advertising OS X will actually have a beneficial effect on sales. Which is sound logic, if advertising the Mac won’t help fill Apple’s coffers then any funds spent on advertising the Mac are, in essence, wasted.

However, why would Apple be so certain that no amount of exposure will help move OS X powered Macs? The most common argument is that it is simply impossible to advertise OS X in any meaningful way owing to the constraints of a thirty second commercial.

Former Apple employee John Martellaro, clearly espouses this notion. Mr. Martellaro persuasively argues that, aside from clever tricks with Dashboard and Expose, there is no way to highlight the differences between Windows and OS X in a thirty second television spot. However, Mr. Martellaro suffers from the same blind spot many of the technically minded suffer from: the notion that all effective advertising is demonstrative advertising. It seems logical enough, a demo would seemingly be worth more than a feeling, but some of the Madison Avenue types are smart, and they know better.

Taste the Rainbow

This is possibly the most disturbing television ad you’ll see today. For those who don’t want to follow the link, or wish to keep the realms of reality and LSD flashbacks entirely separate, the spot proceeds as follows: A man with a beard that makes the facial hair sported by ZZ Top look like a soul patch is undergoing a job interview. As the interview progresses the man begins eating Skittles. For some, necessarily, inexplicable reason instead of transporting the hard shelled candy to his mouth with his hands he uses his beard which functions much like a third arm complete with opposable whiskers. The ad takes a turn towards the jibblies inducing at the end when said beard is used to feed a skittle to, and subsequently caress, the interviewer. Thankfully, the familiar tag hits signaling the end of the ad: Skittles. Taste the Rainbow.

The insightful reader will immediately note that at no time is the flavor of the Skittles discussed. There is no mention of a nominally citrus flavored chewy center encased in a crunchy shell. About the only thing that is apparent from the ad is that multiple Skittles are ingestible, though one wonders about the side effects. The most literal minded among us are left thinking, at this point, if those mushrooms we had for dinner were of the hallucinogenic variety.

Still, the ad works. Perhaps not on a conscious level, but it definitely leaves an impression. My 3-year-old son, a true candy connoisseur, couldn’t tell you what a Skittle is, but when he sees a package he says, “Taste the rainbow.” If he actually eats a Skittle and wants another his pleas aren’t “more, more” they’re “taste the rainbow, taste the rainbow!” Nothing against corporate America and effective advertising, but we don’t buy a lot of Skittles anymore.

Expecting Apple to sell computers with a campaign of that nature is farfetched. Sure, they might roll out a “lick the aqua” or something similar but it would be a certain failure. Aqua, when coupled with the grey plastic and brushed metal found in OS X’s increasingly inconsistent interface, wouldn’t provide the desired mouth feel. Perhaps a look at the advertising for something a little more technology related is in order.

The iPod

Colorful background, silhouetted dancers and white ear buds. These were the style of ads Apple used to help fuel the iPods meteoric rise from Mac only niche product to mass popularity. While little more than annoying to some, the spots were certainly effective in establishing the iPod as the device for the Über hip or the sadly two-dimensional.

Again, these ads convey more style than substance. For example, there is no voice over explaining what the iPod or an example of anyone controlling the iPod. If the sound on the TV is off, you could be forgiven for assuming that the ear buds were the source of electrical stimulation for the cerebellum rather than small speakers.

It would be difficult to convince people to go with OS X solely on the basis of some idiot hopping around holding a Mac mini, so criticizing Apple for not doing what they did for the iPod for OS X would be a bit harsh. If only there were a company selling an OS that advertised said OS in some non-direct, yet decidedly successful, manner…

Microsoft’s XP ads

Microsoft, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, is often accused of ripping off Apple. For example when Jim Allchin promised that Vista, née Longhorn would just work, (he used wireless connectivity as an example where it didn’t) Apple lovers howled that Microsoft was ripping Apple’s mantra. That was a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, there have been plenty of times Microsoft has appropriated Apple innovations. In advertising, Apple should return the favor and consider learning a little from Microsoft’s excellent XP ads.

One compelling XP advertisement is of a teenage girl. She explains that her boyfriend has just broken off their torrid relationship. Rather than being depressed and angst ridden, she’s glad. The setback in her love life, she earnestly opines, will provide fodder for her to make an album. She’ll burn the album onto a disc and give it to her friends. Then, the viewer is told, she can accomplish all this because she is empowered by her choice of OS (Windows XP) and the vast library of software titles that run on said OS.

Microsoft plays plenty of other ads of this ilk, ads that all focus on the creativity that signing on with the world’s most common OS allows. The sad fact is that this was one time that Microsoft definitely didn’t ape Apple.

Judging from the three ad examples above, it is safe to say: Ads don’t have to be demonstrative to be effective. We should also be well served to keep in mind that Apple doesn’t sell a computer so much as an experience. The biggest part of the experience is, without a doubt OS X. In the end, Apple doesn’t need clever tricks to display OS X’s superiority. Instead Apple needs an ad campaign, desperately, that conveys the Mac experience. Not being the most creative individual I might suggest a prehensilely bearded man in silhouette opining that owing to OS X he can finally effectively store a wide variety of media and access said content at will. Naturally, Apple can hire people with much better ideas, the question is why they have stopped trying?


  • Fun article! Your comments about your three-year-old remind me of when my daughter was about that age and asked for a “give me a break” bar.

    Thanks for enjoyable reading.

    Janet Meyer had this to say on Apr 04, 2006 Posts: 36
  • so funny, i hate the teenage ad for winxp.

    nana had this to say on Apr 04, 2006 Posts: 63
  • The funny thing is Apple actually does make Mac commercials.  They just don’t air them.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 04, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • How about sponsoring a contest, where we Mac faithful have to create a 30 second Apple ad? Or even better, we have to create a complete campaign? (30 second radio spot, 30 second tv spot, full page newspaper ad, and web banner ad)

    planetmike had this to say on Apr 05, 2006 Posts: 23
  • I think your 3 year old is watching way too much TV

    domarch had this to say on Apr 05, 2006 Posts: 12
  • Funny article, Chris! (Apparently ^^)

    WTF is that skittles advert?? I never saw that in the UK but… wataff??

    So Chris, does your son point at your Mac and shout, “iPod! iPod!”?

    And have you seen the original iPod advert?

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Apr 05, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Thanks J.R.M. and L.M.W., I am glad you found the article amusing. Actually when my kid sees the iPod (nano) he shouts “music, music”

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Apr 05, 2006 Posts: 354
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