Microsoft Finally Finds its Good (for them) Ad Formula

| Editorial

Microsoft is finally creating good (for them) TV ads.

There, I said it. Go ahead and send me your hate mail.

As Mac users, we tend to focus entirely too much on what others do in relation to Apple and to take offense where none is necessary. Microsoft's latest ads are not targeted at Mac users. There's zero chance of any Mac user seeing these ads and going into a store to buy a new Windows based PC. They are barely targeted towards Apple. They are certainly targeted at the average PC buyer -- the semi-mythical Joe Six Pack -- who is looking to buy a new computer.

Ignore specs, ignore user experience, ignore Return on Investment (ROI), ignore all the things that we Mac users tend to think are important when we go buy a new computer. Look at it from Joe Six Pack's point of view.

The economy is tough, job security is tenuous at best, unemployment is up, consumer confidence is down. It's awfully hard to look at your bank account and think about spending one to three thousand dollars on a computer, no matter how badly you may need or want one and no matter what kind of computer you want to buy. You need to be smart about spending money.

You go to your local Best Buy to get a new laptop for yourself or your kids. You walk into the Apple section because you've seen the commercials. The laptops look nice but the cheapest one you can find is a thousand dollars and the helpful Best Buy employee tells you it's an "older" model. Next lowest price is $1,300. 

You walk over to the Windows based PCs and see the lowest price of $379! You could buy almost three or four Toshiba laptops for the price of one or the two lowest priced Mac laptops.

Buying that Mac is a hard pill to swallow and that's what the Microsoft ads are playing on. 

Remember, most people use Windows-based computers. Joe Six Pack probably uses one at work. His friends use them. He has lots of software he's bought or downloaded, and is comfortable -- if not happy -- with Windows.

He's seen the Apple commercials and knows that they are good machines, but wow. They are really expensive and he doesn't really see where the extra "value" is.

From the point of view of Joe, that's a completely reasonable shopping experience. The Microsoft ads play on that experience in such a way that consumers think all they have to do is go to a store, find the best price on a laptop and they'll have the best laptop. As Mac users -- or even as smart, savvy consumers -- we know that's not true, but these ads aren't meant for the "smart, savvy" shopper.

I'm not saying that any of the people in the ads are actually stupid, per se. But too often, we shop based on price and think we are getting "a good deal." Not that shopping based on price is always a bad thing -- I'll happily pay less for Bounty paper towels at one store than another, or comparison shop between different brands of milk.

Microsoft is playing on the idea that computers are just tools: there's no real difference between them, just like there's no real difference between the hammers you find at Home Depot. Microsoft is saying, "Just pick the one that fits your price range and you'll leave with a good machine and value."

And keep in mind, for a lot of people, that's true. Not everyone needs high resolution screens, fast memory, a graphics card with half a gig of RAM, or some of the other features found on top of the line laptops.

Are people better off with those specs? Certainly, but if the consumer only cares about price, comparing specs down to that level would be a waste of time. And Apple knows that. So why chase after the people who only care about price when the price they care about potentially hurts Apple in the long run?

See: the ads are good for Apple, too. Apple has never had much interest in the shallow end of the pool. While they could make laptops closer to the price of the average PC, they choose not to in order to keep their profit margins comfortable and to keep their end of the pool free of the "solely price conscious." Apple has wisely (for them) chosen to increase market share through quality versus quantity.

There's the old retail adage of "You can always lower prices. It's hard to raise them." With PC manufacturers chasing market share by lowering prices (and cutting profits) and with Microsoft encouraging the trend with these commercials, the market on the low end is very cut throat. And when you consider the average sales person doesn't really care what computer you buy, just that you buy something, then it's tough for Joe Six Pack to find out what is the best computer for him and his family.

So Apple stays away from customers who only care about price, and while that may be the vast majority, Apple may recognize that those customers tend to be more trouble than they are worth -- and often cost companies more in the long run.

While the Microsoft ads may be effective in the short term, they only serve to remind us that PC manufacturers and Microsoft don't care about the user experience, quality and the customer as much as Apple does with their ads and their stores.

And finally: to Mac users everywhere who are up in arms over these commercials? Take a good look at the "I'm a Mac" ads and you'll see the exact same tactics used by Apple in their commercials. Apple and Microsoft are just playing the same ad game that's been around since television began.

 


 

Shawn King has been an Internet Broadcaster for over 14 years and is the host of the Your Mac Life show.

Comments

Tiger

Well said, and just to quote P.T. Barnum…there’s a sucker born every minute. Go buy that $379 laptop. You’ll be buying another in six to eight months. And then another. And another. Considering Macs last an average of five to seven years, even Joe Six Pack can do that math and figure out $1,300 is a lot less cost.

At least we hope he can.

Lee Dronick

“So Apple stays away from customers who only care about price, and while that may be the vast majority, Apple may recognize that those customers tend to be more trouble than they are worth—and often cost companies more in the long run.”

Or more trouble for their friends who know a lot about computers and are asked to help out.

daemon

There’s a misconception when people talk about Joe Sixpack. For Joe, money is a big deal, it always has been and always will be. That said Joe doesn’t want to spend a lot of it, in fact the less he spends the happier he is (mostly because he doesn’t have very much money to begin with), but Joe has work to do, and he needs the right tools for the work. So Joe goes shopping for tools, he happens to really like tools so he knows a lot about them, and he knows what he needs to get the job done. Joe needs a hammer so he can hang some pictures up, but he also needs a hammer to breakup an old patio in the backyard. The thing is that the size, weight, and reliability needed in the hammer to get these two jobs done are vastly different. No one hammer is going to be a good fit to get both jobs done, however Joe can get two hammers if he spends his money wisely.

So you see, it’s not just about cheapest, but getting the biggest bang for your buck.

TommyZ

Very good non-bias article.  I’ll start out saying I’m a big, BIG Apple/Mac fan.  I can see the “values” in spending the extra dollars to have one vendor provide my computing/software solutions.  But, the real issue is that many / most users are really doing a handful of things such as surfing the web doing email, creating very short documents and a spreadsheet here and there.  Given this requirement I’ve been hard pressed to “upsell” the Mac value add for people like my senior parents who need very little.  Now, I really think they would benefit from the one vendor solution, but for users with limited needs the target ads from Microsoft hit a cord.  Apple knows this, and thus all the apple adds are focused on how hard/confusing/unstable the Windows platform really has become.  They are selling the Apple solutions, not the hardware.  Like the Iphone, there are cheeper phones out there, but if you took mine away I’d be lost….

Apple knows the market and I think are quite happy with the offerings they have…. they will never compete on price.  We know it, Apple knows it, and Microsoft knows it….

XSemper Idem5

Interesting perspective for analyzing the situation.

“Ignore specs, ignore user experience, ignore Return on Investment (ROI), ignore all the things that we Mac users tend to think are important when we go buy a new computer. Look at it from Joe Six Pack’s point of view.”
I couldn’t ignore all of that, so I bought a Mac.

“As Mac users—or even as smart, savvy consumers—we know that’s not true, but these ads aren’t meant for the “smart, savvy” shopper…I’m not saying that any of the people in the ads are actually stupid, per se.”
Ok that one just made me laugh.
Especially because I think I had one of the guys from the commercials in a class some years ago.

Lee Dronick

But, the real issue is that many / most users are really doing a handful of things such as surfing the web doing email, creating very short documents and a spreadsheet here and there.

Yes, pretty much all my mother does is “Get on the Yahoo” to read email and do some web surfing.

Moeskido

My question is always about how many consumers out there who will actually research a product at all before they put down money for it, regardless of whether it’s a toaster, a computer, or a car.

Chip-based consumer tech has become relatively sophisticated in a relatively short time. But any category of goods still has differences in the quality and function of what you get. Long-term, it’s possible to burn a great deal of cash on gear that doesn’t work well, wastes time with excessive maintenance, and craps out after a short time.

If the majority of consumers out there are only shopping for price, then I’m happy to be in a minority. And I’m happier to watch Microsoft and its partners chasing low-margin sales that destroy their support budgets.

Ted Landau

My next door neighbors are the “average PC users” that you describe. But they are also Mac users and admirers. In a way, they seem exactly whom Microsoft is targeting.

They have two computers: an old PC desktop and and old MacBook. They both agree that the MacBook is superior and hoped to stick with Apple for their next computers.

Coincidentally, both of their computers pretty much reached the end of the road recently. So they decided to get a new pair of laptops.

They are not especially sophisticated computer users. Their computing needs are fairly minimal.

They went to Best Buy and immediately went to the Apple section. But money is tight (the wife is currently not employed and they have two kids). So they balked at the price of the new MacBooks. For the same price, they could get two PC laptops and have some change left over. It was no contest. They bought the two PCs.

And I have to say, in their position, I would probably do the same thing.

Apple is essentially writing these people off. That may be a good decision, as you suggest. In the same way that BMW does not expect every prospective car buyer to be a potential BMW customer. That’s not their goal. Of course, BMW will never have a dominant share of the total car market. And neither will Apple ever have a dominant share of the computer market. Still, both can continue to grow and be successful.

deasys

From the point of view of Joe, that’s a completely reasonable shopping experience

But the question is, will Joe expect to be reimbursed (bribed) for his PC purchase after he walks out of the store, just like the people in these ads?

Bill

And yet a day or so ago, I priced out the HP Slimline desktop that was number one on the Comsumer’s Reports evaluations.  After putting all of the bells and whistles on it, it came to more than $2000.  A far cry from the $700 for a nicely equipped Mac Mini.  I wish that some of the items on the Mini were more configurable and reasonably priced.  I guess it is a question of what you are willing to pay and the level of performance you desire.  I am still using all three of my macs: 9-y.o. iMac, 5 y.o Mac Mini G4, 2 y.o. Mac Mini Intel.

daemon

And yet a day or so ago, I priced out the HP Slimline desktop that was number one on the Comsumer?s Reports evaluations.  After putting all of the bells and whistles on it, it came to more than $2000.  A far cry from the $700 for a nicely equipped Mac Mini.  I wish that some of the items on the Mini were more configurable and reasonably priced.  I guess it is a question of what you are willing to pay and the level of performance you desire.  I am still using all three of my macs: 9-y.o. iMac, 5 y.o Mac Mini G4, 2 y.o. Mac Mini Intel.

Bill, exactly what did you add to the HP Slimline to get it over $2000? From the baseline the only thing I had to add was an Intel Core 2 Duo processor E7400 [2.8GHz] for $100, the Mac Mini comes with a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, and a 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9500GS for $110, which is a bit better than the Mac Mini’s 9400M, (although for my money I’d much rather buy an after-market Radeon HD 4830 for about $95, an option you will never have with a Mac Mini) otherwise in every measurable way the hardware was better on the Slimline than on the Mac Mini’s. All for $60 less.

Bregalad

I think TommyZ has it backwards. His senior parents, like mine, need something simple and trouble free so they don’t become a tech support burden on their family.

Back in the early part of this decade my parents decided to join the rest of the world and get a computer for writing documents and email.

Knowing I’d be the one stuck supporting them I made sure they didn’t accept a donation or “great deal” on a Windows PC .

My brother tracked down an almost free Power Macintosh 7600 and Personal LaserWriter 320. He donated a 16” Apple Color Display and I donated some additional RAM and a pile of old hardware including a 33.6k modem, flatbed scanner and Zip drive.

A year later we gave them a beige G3 and 56k modem.

Next came OS X on a G4/466 and then an iMac G4/800 which delighted my mother with it’s looks and small footprint. Sadly the iMac’s power supply died after only 6 months prompting a serious discussion about warranties.

Finally, after years of encouragement, they upgraded to DSL and purchased a 1.83GHz Mac mini refurb from the Apple store and I support them using screen sharing.

vince7

This is my first post on this blog.  That was the most SUBTLE beat-down of Windows user to date.  I agree with you on almost all points Shawn.  I don’t understand the mentality that allows anyone to argue over the price of anything.  Either you can pony up the price or you can’t.

The one area that I disagree is about the buying habits of Joe Whatshisname.  We can safely assume that Joe/Bubba will always be price conscious.  So lets stop picking on him.  The M$ ads are targeted at the “tweener” buyers.  Tweeners are people who are currently between a rock and a hard place financially.  The potential buyer who recognizes Apple quality but can’t afford the products.

So far none of the laptop buyers have appeared to be on the lower rung of the economic ladder.  They are collectively cheapskates MS hired to play cheapskates.  Can you imagine GM or Ford or Chrysler running ads that say buying a Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti or other high vehicles is foolish?  Yeah they all will get you from point A to B.  So why do people buy them then?

So please give Joe/Bubba a break.  I own a 17” HP laptop and a 24” iMac.  I am a Windows support tech by trade.  So Windows pays the bills.  You must wonder how 2 Macs have found their way into my home?  The short answer is that Macs work as advertised.  Are they perfect? No.  Do I think they are over priced?  No.  When I visit lets say Dell online, my configurations are never less than $1600.  Heck, a Windows pc/laptop isn’t even worth consideration until well after the Grand mark.

I will close by saying that this whole argument is about an individual’s threshold of pain.  Just because some are wimps financially doesn’t mean the rest of us are wasteful with our money.

John Boy

Good point about these ads. (And what I’ve thought of them since day 1)

A direct example from my own life. I needed a small air compressor for some jobs at friends’ houses. I could’ve gotten the DeWalt or Makita compressor for $400-$500. it is a great deal and would last forever and NEVER break down…  Or I instead got the $118 HUsky Home Depot brand. It’s cheap and will not last as long, but it will do as much as I need for years to come.

Computers anymore are tools. I prefer to buy the best when it is something I will use a lot and need. Like my Milwaulkee Drill and my G5 tower, both still plugging away after YEARS of hard service

Japester

Shawn’s article reminds me of just how hard it is for me to see outside my own viewpoint. I’m a Mac-Mac and hate these ads. Shawn gets it right: they’re not aimed at me.

I’ve decided that if I ever get into a conversation about buying a computer and the other person keeps playing the price card, I will tell them that a Mac is not for them because price is their most important consideration, and that disqualifies them. I hate this attitude because I’m not cheap, but can at least understand that they see things that way.

wilf53

Good article - but I just have to comment on one thing: That “just a tool”-argument. Hammers were mentioned. Well, I have used bad hammers and I have used good hammers. I have used lots of tools for different things; practical work and creative work and I think most professionals would agree with me that tools are not “just tools”. You have good tools and you have not so good tools and you have downright poor tools.

Just to have that mentioned. A very poor argument, as I see it…

daPrinz

Yeah, they finally found an ad campaign that works for them. One that doesn’t mention Windows!

wilf53

Apple is essentially writing these people off. That may be a good decision, as you suggest. In the same way that BMW does not expect every prospective car buyer to be a potential BMW customer. That?s not their goal. Of course, BMW will never have a dominant share of the total car market. And neither will Apple ever have a dominant share of the computer market. Still, both can continue to grow and be successful.

I think this is a good point - they are essentially write these people off. They can also write a lot of people off in other countries, where the level of income and standard of living is not as high as in the USA, although these may not be poor countries.

I am not say that Apple should aim at being the cheap computer for all of the less well-to-be in the world, but sometimes I wonder what they meant by that slogan they once used; A computer for the rest of us?

The problem here is perhaps not Apple?s and thus not theirs to fix, but Apple is for most, the only viable alternative to the Monopoly and that alternative is expensive. If ever the Linux-camp could concentrate on user-friendliness (and they have become much better, but perhaps still not good enough?) what choice do “the rest of us” have, but to buy a PC with Windows which they can afford? The only alternative is the BMW of computers, or perhaps rather the Rolls Royce, pricewise.

Well, if that is what Apple aims for, so be it. It is their choice. But it is a pity, it is.

I should be selfish and say that I still belong to the ones who can afford a BMW, but…

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