Why the New Mac Campaign will Fail

by Chris Seibold May 04, 2006

Last Thursday, this space featured a column earnestly opining that advertising the iPod alone wasn’t enough to help Mac sales. This week Apple introduced new ads for the Mac. The surprising thing is that Apple could respond that quickly to the complaint, sure Final Cut is great but Apple even managed to buy TV time in a mere four days!

Joking aside, the new ads are nothing short of fantastic. Unlike the ill-fated Postal Service ad, these spots are advertising the best thing that Apple has going for it, OS X. But the ads go farther than just telling the public how great OS X is, they also point out some of the shortcomings of Windows. The campaign comes at just the right time, Microsoft is getting a stomping of gangland proportions by the media and customer trust is hovering somewhere around the Presidents approval numbers. If there was ever a moment tailor made for a Mac onslaught, this is that moment in time.

Before taking a quick look at each commercial in the series, it is useful to note some commonalities. The ads all feature two guys talking, one middle aged, portly and purposely boring looking guy named PC and a younger, hipper, clearly smarter guy named Mac. Apple is anthropomorphizing two soulless machines, which seems absurd, but the message is clear: the PC is your Dad’s computer. In an example of consistent use of the Mac brand, (we’ll forget about the Postal Service ad) the latest batch of commercials hearken back to the original switcher ads. Same talking directly into the camera, same hard cuts between zoom levels, same one camera style, same white background etc. In short, while the campaign is new, it stays true to the larger Mac advertising theme.

The Ads Examined:

The WSJ ad:

Mac is looking at the Wall Street Journal, PC grabs the paper to see a review where Mac is called the best computer available “at any price.” PC is a bit jealous.

This is likely the weakest effort in the campaign, but it is still very strong. With this ad Apple is telling perspective buyers that third parties, people with no vested interest, consider the Mac to be the finest computer around. They invoke the name of well-respected tech pundit Walt Mossberg. Which is nice, but how many people really know who Walt Mossberg is and, with the “at any price” quote thrown in, one suspects that the notion that Macs=Expensive will be reinforced. For those who already own a Mac, the ad is top notch. It makes us seem like ultra refined computer buyers.


Things get a little more interesting here, with Mac and PC chatting away. PC suddenly, and inexplicably, stops talking. Mac just keeps going strong and finally heads off to fetch an IT guy.

From this spot we learn that PCs and Macs get along with each other, but that PCs take a professional to administer and may quit at any moment. Much like Roger Clemens. Now, without a doubt, some XP users are going to say that XP never locks up when they are using it. Therefore, they will conclude, the ad is purposely deceptive. Well, it’s advertising to start with and, actual stability of Windows aside, the perception is that Windows is a morass of BSoDs. Why not reinforce the stereotype if you’re Apple?


The funniest of the bunch. This ad features PC listening to his “slow jams” on an iPod. Mac then explains that everything in iLife is just as cool as the iPod and that they all work seamlessly. PC counters by noting that he comes with cool apps as well, namely a calculator and a clock. (We should assume Minesweeper and Solitaire were purposeful omissions).

This is Apple’s attempt to convert a chunk of iPod buyers to the Mac. The ad essentially tells viewers that the iPod they know and love is but the tip of their potential computing-glee iceberg, an experience only found on the Mac.


This ad starts out with PC and Mac holding hands. At this point, the average guy is thinking “Are we getting some kinda Brokeback PC stuff here?” Shortly, a Japanese woman walks up and grabs Mac’s free hand. Turns out that she’s really a digital camera and the two can instantly communicate.

This spot is meant to show how compatible OS X is with both PCs and a wide range peripherals. It’s a compelling ad on the most basic level because the girl goes straight for the Mac. Still, the ad fails to convey just how easy it is to use a digital camera (or other device) with a Mac.


PC is sick, Mac isn’t. PC says there are 114,000 viruses for the PC. PC crashes (by falling down).

This is the most ambitious ad, it is telling viewers what Mac users have been saying for years: We don’t worry about viruses. The ad also plays on an important aspect of buyer’s psyches, fear. It’s not that hard to avoid the bad stuff out there, even on a PC, but it is very difficult not to worry about it.

Why the spots will fail miserably:

There are going to be complaints about the PC being overly stereotypical or the Mac guy being too odd for people to relate to. In reality, the choice of the actors is clever. For most products the target market is 18-341, and the commercials take dead aim at the target market. Certainly, there will be other criticisms, but they will be more nitpicking than substantive. Taken separately, and applying the wildly subjective Chris Seibold Marketing Achievement Scale all the spots rate at least an eight out of ten. If all the commercials are at least a “very good,” how can you be sure the ads will be considered a failure? Because they won’t move the Mac’s market share enough.

In six months, after the campaign is over, some internet hack will say that the ads were really great but Apple is still stuck with 5% of the market and hence the ads were, for all their niftiness, a failure. The person who says this will be an idiot 2. These ads are aimed squarely at the consumer. Consumer computer purchases account for, roughly, 30% of all computer purchases. Hence, for Apple to move market share with these ads to some imaginary ideal spot, say 10%, the ads will have to convince a full third of all consumers buying a computer to buy a Mac. That is a lot to ask of any marketing campaign.

Apple, as you might suspect, will use a different metric to quantify the success or failure of the ads. They’ll probably talk mindshare and such but, at the end of the day, Steve Jobs is a money kind of guy and his formula for success will look like this: [(Macs sold after campaign)-(Macs expected to be sold without campaign)*profit margin]-advertising costs=success/failure. In this context, it is hard to imagine that his campaign will end in anything other than a resounding success.

1. A notable exception to this would be the ads for erectile dysfunction. In that case, the target market is the age of the guy playing PC. Hopefully, for the actor after he is done with Apple’s commercials he can transition into that line of advertising. Though with the “subtle” way those drugs are promoted he’ll probably have to spend every filming session punching fifty cherry pies or something.

2. It will likely be Chris Seibold.


  • What about all the “consumers” using iPods? Even if a portion of those people switch to Macs, isn’t that a pretty important amount of people?

    Bart had this to say on May 15, 2006 Posts: 23
  • I was wondering if you might want to revisit your opinions here, with hindsight as your guide.

    Big E had this to say on Aug 29, 2007 Posts: 7
  • Page 2 of 2 pages  <  1 2
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