Microsoft Finally Finds its Good (for them) Ad Formula

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.