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.


  • I agree with Chris’ assumptions that these new Apple ads will not tilt the PC-vs-Mac fulcrum in a very significant way. It may even tilt the balance the other way.

    Most PC users I know are average smart dudes that obviously know where to spend their $$$. XPs and *Nix’s of all flavors are inexpensive to build and maintain (need I mention “borrowing” from friends?) compared to buying gleaming white G5s or Core Duo Macs.

    They will be content on using what they already familiar with even with the tedium of combating viruses and malwares at a daily recurrences. These annoyances have become part of life over the greener pastures. Apple can mention the “no virus on a Mac” virtues all day and will not convince those who are already comfortable with their PCs.

    Looking beyond what the ads are portraying - a nerdy, middle-aged guy and a hip, scrappy dude playing the roles of the PC and Mac, respectively. These are meant for folks who haven’t bought a computer in their lives - these are the target customers. It is hard for us computer-literates to comprehend that there is the majority of people that are still waiting to be convinced to make that special purchase. Remember your first time? You had no idea which way to succumb your loyalties to - a PC that works well enough or a Mac with all the niceties of a svelte GUI. Like most you probably decided upon considering the balance on your credit card.

    That said, Apple might as well promote vigorously the price-competitiveness of its “low-end” products. They should not focus on the wittiness of the current ads - entertaining to most Mac users, I suppose, but not to current PC owners waiting to be convinced, nor are they informational enough to the PC- or Mac-deprived majority.

    To tilt the fulcrum the Mac advantage, it will always be PRICE, PRICE, PRICE…not coolness, hipness, nor svelteness. Those are things that matters to a small minority (5% of the total market???). I will be surprised to see 10% in five years given the current price structures.

    Keep ‘em witty articles coming, Chris.

    Robomac had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 846
  • Nice article Chris,
        You have alot of valid points, and I am not sure if your hitting the nail on the head when explaining the whole concept on advertizing.
        I really don’t think Apple’s target is based on equipment sales and trying to pick up market share with these adds as much as they are trying to educate the general public. Apple is here, and HERE to stay, what they offer, the benefits and the things they can do.
      Advertizing is very expensive and its considered an over head. In some situations it will increase sales but generally not enough to offset its cost, when compared to the increases gained in net profit margins. There are things in business that you can’t afford “not to do” and Apple has suffered in the past for just this reason.
      Jobs may not make a penny on this advertizing, but he will in the long wrong let people know that there is an alternative in the PC industry besides Windows. In time a better quality product will always win people over. Proof is in the pudding.

    Macster2 had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 40
  • Sorry should read “long run” not long wrong, trying to post to quickly

    Macster2 had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 40
  • Any ad campaign by itself is not sufficient. But when taken as part of a whole, they reveal something about the character of a company. These ads, like the switcher ads, build on Apple’s hip, quirky, independent persona. They are therefore faithful to Apple’s core values. Over time, these kinds of ads influence into people’s conceptions of the company.  The pundits are paid to be unhinged. Ignore them. Apple has money and used it to make an ad aimed at “the rest of us”. Bully for them.

    Aurora77 had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 35
  • There is no real metric of how successful an ad campaign is. That pretty much can only be determined by the company. If the company felt money spent was worth getting their message out to the masses then it was a success.

    Most of the people I know with PC’s don’t really know much about computers and many really don’t care. You could write COMPUTER in bold black letters on the side of a box and thats good enough for them.

    I believe Apple’s best marketing tool are the computers themselves. The ability to walk into an Apple store and use the computer. As well as seeing people out in the world use them.

    Only certain types of people will buy Macs. People who feel the Mac will complement the way they work and their lifestyle. While the majority who really don’t care or who are fans of Windows will continue to use Windows.

    I agree that this ad campaign will do nothing to sway a significant portion of the computer base to buying Macs. I don’t believe Apple has any expectation of this. Apple likes being the small quirky boutique company.

    TenoBell had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 5
  • I would comment on this article, but I am not able to read the last five paragraphs with that epileptic-seizurific flashing ad on the left. I don’t care what I won, damnit!

    Oskar had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 86
  • Chris, you missed the “Better” ad, which I reckon is the only lame duck. Maybe you thought the same and politely overlooked it on purpose

    I also suspect you’re spot on about the target audience. These ads look like they’re aimed at iPod buyers - who are predominantly under 30. Thus the Mac guy is an under 30.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • The ads are not meant to SELL computers. For years Apple had the best creativity from world class ad agencies (Chiat Day, for example), However, if the consumer was not listening, what good are the ads?

    Now, with Vista delays, PC viruses, and iPods on the mind, Apple is turning heads. Are these people ready to switch? Maybe. But all it may take is a voice from Apple themselves supporting what they may have read in their papers.  Peple are now receptive.

    These people are the borderline market. Thinking about buying a Mac (because Boot Camp gives them a safety net) but just a little shy in pulling the trigger. The ads speac to these people in very few words and they hold your attention.

    The right message at the right time.

    Most advertising (car advertising, for example) is not aimed at new sales. They are aimed for retaining their existing base. Make them loyal. Validation that they made a good choice. Proud of their decision.

    Thats where the Apple ads excel. They validate one’s decision to buy a Mac. “Boy, that’s exactly the reason why I want to try a Mac.”

    Next stop. Apple Store.

    cotten999 had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Looking at these ads from a marketing communications POV - they do accomplish what they set out to do - compare the virtues of the MAC against the PC and to make the target audience more aware of what the MAC can do - and what the PC can’t (or does do that no one wants it to do)

    Will these ads cause a mass switch amongst consumers? Probably not. Will these ads highten MAC’s awareness and position in the target markets mind? Probably.  Do recent switchees from PC to MAC find these ads amusing? I know I did as I kept sitting here watching them going - yeop - don’t have to put up with that s**t anymore.

    What’s the main purpose of an advertisment campaign?  To increase awareness; to let consumers out there who may be in the market for a new computer know that MAC is an option - and that all (well.. most) of thier current peripherals will work - and that they still will be able to communicate with their PC friends. 

    The one thing we know that these ads will do, is make people think - why am I not using a MAC?

    kennie had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 3
  • A lot of the PC criticisms in these ads may not necessarily apply to XP, but remember that there’s still a huge number of Win9x users out there.  I don’t recall the exact number, but it’s over 50%; that’s why Microsoft mandated that the new .NET 2.0 platform must run on Win9x.

    These ads are funny, but I think they’ll resonate with a lot of Windows users whose machines are either obsolete or plagued with spyware and other useless software that seems to build up on every consumer Windows machine I’ve ever used.  Whether that translates into a flood of new Windows switchers, well I doubt it, but it will at least make them feel bad.

    I do think that Apple’s software development has been firing on all cylinders for at least a couple of years now, whereas Microsoft’s development has been unfocused for quite some time.  In that sense, these ads may be closer to reality than any previous Mac ad campaign.

    astrosmash had this to say on May 04, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Hey! Apple’s gotta advertise somethin’. They might as well have fun doin’ it and tweek a few people at the same time. All this emphasis on market share seems a bit missplaced. Jaguar (the car) doesn’t have the market share of Chevy, but ya don’t see them too concerned. They just keep making “luxury cars”. I would consider the Mac a “luxury computer” whos maker is on the leading edge of innovation (which may someday will trickle down to the everyday PC)

    mswaine had this to say on May 05, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Kennie: It’s Mac, not MAC (Mac is an abbreviation of Macintosh, but MAC is an acronym used in networking protocols.)

    Macster2: It’s advertiSing, not advertiZing. Doesn’t your Mac have built-in spellchecking or something? :p

    Chris Seibold: You can’t say the ads are going to work, and increase the market share to 5%, and sell a ton of Macs, but also say those are the reason the campaign will “fail miserably”. That’s just ridiculous now, even children know what advertising is meant to do. IF something were to ‘fail miserably’, surely by that definition it would actually do nothing at all, or possibly the opposite of its intentions, in this case, switching people from Macs to PCs. Obviously not. You shouldn’t make bold, bordering on hypocritical, claims just so you have a nice, controversial headline for your article. Sheesh.

    ^ Not trying to point out errors to you guys to humiliate you. It’s only with the intention so’s you know next time around. =)

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 06, 2006 Posts: 299
  • LMW,
    You’ll remember the original switch ads were seen as a failure. That failure was in spite of the fact that the ads sold a lot of computers to first time mac buyers. So, going by the past to predict the future, people are going to call this campaig a failure. They will be wrong.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on May 06, 2006 Posts: 354
  • The profundity with which people here are discussing a TV commercial is rather amusing.

    But then, the profundity with which people discuss their choice of computer is a thousand times more absurd, so I guess this is more or less proportional.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 07, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Hey everyone, let’s have a profound discussion on the profundity of the discussion of apple’s tv ads - I think it’d be fun.


    Benji had this to say on May 14, 2006 Posts: 927
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