Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

How Microsoft put Apple owners on the defensive

March 28, 2009: 1:24 PM ET

Lauren in Microsoft adHer name is "Lauren" and she's making the Apple (AAPL) guys nuts.

She's the young, hip, Volkswagen-driving redhead who stars in the latest Microsoft's (MSFT) TV campaign. Told that if she can find a 17-inch laptop for under $1,000 she can keep it, Lauren ends up -- to the Mac aficionados' dismay -- with an HP (HPQ) running Windows Vista.

"I would have to double my budget, which isn't feasible," Lauren says as she drives away from an Apple Store, where 17-inch notebooks start at $2,799. Then she sighs and delivers the ad's coup de grace: "I'm just not cool enough to be a Mac person."

Ouch.

The ad first aired Thursday night, and the Apple press has been taking pot shots at it ever since. Among the complaints:

  • "Lauren" is an actress, not the ordinary American shopper the ad claims
  • The Apple Store scene was faked; before-and-after photos suggest that she never actually went into the store to try the computers
  • The $699 HP Pavilion dv7 she chose over a $999 MacBook is a mess. "It is the epitome of what people dislike about PCs," writes Computerworld's Seth Weintraub. "It runs Vista Home on a slow AMD mobile processor ... its screen is abysmal ... its networking is five years old ... it is loaded with crapware and trial antivirus software that will have to be purchased or wiped off the machine." (link)

One Gizmodo reader even offered to give Lauren his old 17-inch Powerbook so she could do a comparison without worrying about cost. "I do believe," writes Mitch Gewirtz, "everyone on this planet is 'cool enough to be a Mac person'." (link)

Crispin Porter + Boguksy, the agency that produced the ad, has clearly hit a nerve. The campaign goes directly at what may be Apple' biggest vulnerability: the growing differential between Macs, which have largely held their prices throughout the recession, and PCs running Windows, which have been engaged in a brutal price war that forced the industry's ASP (average selling price) down more than 13% in the last quarter of 2008 alone. (See here.)

"Apple, right now, is a fine-tuned machine that targets specific audiences," writes VentureBeat's MG Siegler. "It doesn't care about selling a 17-inch laptop for under $1,000, because those machines have nowhere near the profit margins of the machines it does sell." (link)

Perhaps most thoughtful analysis of what makes the ad so effective -- and so infuriating to Mac users -- was provided by Fox News' Clayton Morris, who devoted nearly 9 minutes of air time to a discussion of the spot by a panel that included SquareSpace's Anthony Casalena and Engadget's Joshua Topolsky.

Topolsky is especially trenchant. "This is almost a red-state-blue-state ad," he says. Not only does it hammer home the issue of cost, but it embeds that message in a subtle bit of Apple bashing. "'I'm not cool enough' is so pejorative, says Topolsky. "This is the stigma of the Mac user as a pompous jerk." (link)

The ad is on heavy prime-time rotation, but in case you missed it, we've pasted the YouTube version below the fold:

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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