Apple has been having its way with Microsoft for a while now, but the one-sided televised fight for tastemaker supremacy has just gotten interesting. Microsoft, after taking it lying down for what seemed like an eternity, hired hotshot ad shop Crispin Porter & Bogusky (think Volkswagen, Burger King and the Truth campaign) to even out the playing field. And if this effort--light years better than the funny but predictable Seinfeld/Bill Gates spot--is an example of what's to come, it's going to be a lot harder for "I'm a Mac" to say it all.
CP&B was brought on to take a little wind out of Apple's sales (intended), but it remains to be seen what kind of listening Mac users will be capable of. We're an elite bunch. The agency is known for recharging sagging brands through sharp, unconventional brashness, typically inventing memorable new themes or characters in the process. To get PC users feeling less inadequate, and Mac users less mighty, it will take a gifted campaign. In a Fast Company article, Crispin figurehead Alex Bogusky put it like this: "What Crispin has been able to do consistently is not just produce breakthrough work, but actually create new audiences for brands." It may be the perfect time for a new PC audience.
Let's face it, we live in a moment where the same forces that brought the once written off underdog Apple (yes, there was a time, kids) into stylistic prominence--along with 14% of the U.S. market share--also exist for the other side. This shift--the rise of the creative class--can effectively be used to promote PCs since this strata exists in all professions and social groups. Whereas when I started my magazine on a Macintosh 18 years ago, my defiant claim was Apple was the tool of the creative vanguard. The company had already put that seed--an accurate claim back then--in hearts and minds with their groundbreaking Ridley Scott '1984' commercial. And I was the living embodiment of that hammer-swinging rebel in the ad, an indie publisher, creating something with technology that wasn't even available a few years before.
More importantly, I felt that Apple was building machines specifically for me, my generation. And PCs, not entirely by their own fault, fell easily into the 'your dad's computer' pile. everything from the way Macs were designed, to their packaging, to the vendors that sold them, was fresh. And when you looked around, even in those early days, Apple users were pushing the envelope in creative ways. I wanted in. Apple spoke to me. PCs weren't ever even a consideration.
The brand new Microsoft commercial takes dead aim at this presumed hegemony. By brilliantly confronting the Apple spots (produced by LA-area Media Arts Lab) head-on, Microsoft has pushed back hard against their PC-mocking assertions. It's the kind of ad a) you'd expect from CP&B and b) that Microsoft had to do if they were going to make any noise at all. Call it their Palin moment. By utilizing a vast array of individuals, from the famous (Deepak Chopra, Pharrell, Eva Longoria) to the un-famous, but original (a black astronaut, a graffiti artist, an animal activist), the spot shows what PC users have probably all wanted to yell out: We're cool too.
Now, a commercial can't change the world. You still won't find me on a PC anytime soon--though I'd love to try out a Zune one of these days. Apple is also great at reminding you--and many a PC user will grudgingly testify--that Mac's are still ahead in terms of ease and intuitive design. Not to mention, to many, trying to paint PCs as the tools of change is like putting John McCain's face on the Obama 'Hope' posters. And the elegance of Apple's design, their innovation and the genius of lord/guru/god Steve Jobs is going to continue to produce the most coveted plastic and aluminum around. But if a commercial can say something something 85% of U.S. computer users have probably felt at one point, it's that Microsoft can bring as many counterparts to John Hodgman's character as the Apple side can. As a die-hard Apple fan, I got the message.
This editorial originally appeared in my blog.
Update: The 'graffiti artist', as it turns out, is well known LA artist Man One, somebody I know and admire.
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