Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 9.11
November 2003




Download ATPM 9.11

Choose a format:

Machine Language

by Matt Coates,

Advertising and Apple

The warriors pile on, a jumble of bodies celebrating victory, exulting. Fists pump the air. Shouts of glee echo across the battlefield. The enemy vanquished, victory is theirs.

The World Series? The Super Bowl? Highlights from Braveheart? Nah—these warriors wear ties and sensible shoes. It’s a Microsoft ad for the new Windows version of Office, and it is the opposite of cool. It is the revenge of the Office nerds, the triumph of hard working cubicle dwellers over the Dilbertians. Forget design firm creatives with their 23-inch CinemaScope monitors and those über-attractive Generation-Y young professionals working wirelessly at Starbucks. Never mind that happy family gathered around their digital hub. Ignore the high-powered road warriors juggling Blackberries and cell phones as they sprint through the airport en route to closing the big deal. In other words, forget the images of most computer and high-tech advertising. These ads are about productivity and corporate worker bees.

This Microsoft print ad and others like it use humor—in one TV spot, a rollicking dance party breaks out after a successful sales meeting—to lighten up the image of the company’s workhorse Office suite. That’s a good idea when you’re trying to win the hearts and minds of people who schedule their workdays with Outlook, churn out reports in Word and hustle PowerPoint presentations for tomorrow’s sales meeting. Office isn’t fun software, but if using it leads to a conga line down the hallway, let’s upgrade!

Are the Microsoft Office ads successful? I think so, because they identify a market and go after it. From what I read, this is a skippable upgrade for small businesses and home users. The suite’s new features, which emphasize collaboration and rely heavily on server technology, are designed for corporations, and that’s how Microsoft is selling it: it makes life easier for the people who do the nuts and bolts work. Will they clamor for the upgrade? I don’t know, but either way I can’t fault the pragmatic concept behind the advertising or its playful execution.

Hewlett Packard, meanwhile, is promoting digital imaging and printing in a series of nifty TV commercials that play with images, movement, and spatial relationships as they show people using digital cameras. Visually, the HP spots couldn’t be less like the Office ads, but they do share an important trait with Microsoft’s commercials: they emphasize a human element in the digital realm. They are about people using technology successfully, albeit in very different ways.

Best Isn’t Good Enough

And that brings us to Apple. It’s time for a new focus in marketing. Having the best designed, best looking computers is great, but it’s not enough. It’s time to show Windows users (and those who don’t use any computer) that there’s major muscle underneath the Mac’s good looks and plenty of software for just about anything they might want to do at home or in business. Sure, Apple makes that case on its Web site, but that presumes that potential customers are visiting. Apple needs to take its case to potential customers, not just hope they’ll stop by.

Apple clearly is on an upswing; I don’t have any survey results to share, but it’s my impression that not only are Windows users more aware of the Mac than ever before, they’re a lot less likely to dismiss the Mac as a toy or a tool only for creative types. Rampant PC viruses and gaping holes in Windows’ security probably have a lot to do with that, but so do the iMacs, the PowerBooks and iBooks, the iPod, the Apple Music Store, the G5, and OS X. Even the mainstream press and the usually hysterical analysts have stopped issuing Apple death notices with every little bump in the road.

Still, it seems that far too many potential Mac users are unsure of what Macs are about. Over the past few months, I’ve had at least a half-dozen longtime PC users ask me about Macs. They’re clearly intrigued by the Mac OS—especially if they have experience with Unix—but they seem to think it was delivered by alien spacecraft. Just the other day, I overheard a CompUSA shopper tell his friend: “I hear that Macs are great, but I just can’t learn to use a whole new computer.” And that’s the problem in a nutshell—the hard to dispel notion that using a Mac requires relearning everything a person knows about personal computers. It shouldn’t be such a big secret that if you can use Windows, you can pick up the Mac OS in no time. But don’t take it just from me—I once heard a CompUSA salesman tell a customer that it would be easy to make a PC-to-Mac switch because Apple “stole” the Mac’s user interface from Microsoft.

The iPod dancers are fine, but it’s time for Apple to break new ground in its marketing and advertising. With the arrival of Panther, the success of the iPod and the Apple Music Store, the recent upgrades of the iBook and PowerBook lines, and the arrival of the Mac G5 desktop, the company should have plenty to talk about.

Here’s my two-cents worth:

Promote Panther

Show users of Mac OS 9 and OS X and Windows users (especially those who have not upgraded to Windows XP) what a modern operating system is all about. Show how easy it is to learn OS X and how much fun it is to use. Take advantage of the good reviews Panther has received—quote them liberally. Advertise OS X’s out-of-box networking abilities and its compatibility with Windows.


We don’t need no stinkin’ viruses! How many Mac OS X machines have suffered from viruses? The answer: apparently, none. Sure, some will say (dubiously) that only the Mac’s “minuscule” market share protects it. But even if that is true, I say, “who cares?” Take advantage of it! If virus-free is not a selling point, I don’t know what is.

Go on a Surfin’ Safari

Internet Explorer for the Mac belongs to the ages now, Netscape is near death. Safari is better, faster, cleaner. It eliminates pop-ups. It has tabs. Promote it!

Call the Office

Apple should relentlessly promote Office for the Mac, even if Microsoft doesn’t. Office should come with every Mac, but if Apple isn’t willing to go that far, at least leave no doubt in any Windows user’s mind that a great version of Office that works nearly seamlessly with the Windows version is available. I’m still surprised by how many Windows users I encounter who don’t know that.

Advertise the Retail Stores

Apple stores are in many of the largest markets now, and to anyone who has suffered the Mac section at CompUSA, an Apple store is a dream come true. There’s no better way to see Macs in action.

Market to Small and Entrepreneurial Businesses

Macs may never carve a big chunk out of the corporate world, but they are great for small business. Show small businesses that using PCs will likely cost them more than using Macs, and then prove it.

Year of the Laptop?

With new and upgraded PowerBooks and new G4 iBooks, Apple has a very impressive line of portables which competes very well with PC laptops on both price and features. So why don’t we see more advertising of them?

As long as we’re talking portable, wouldn’t it be nice to see Apple promote WiFi? After all, AirPort kick-started the boom in wireless access. Especially important: make the point that while AirPort has the coolest name in the wireless realm, it’s not some exotic Apple-only thing. It’s also time for Apple to put AirPort cards in every new Mac; wireless connectivity should be an integral component of the Mac experience the way AppleTalk networking used to be and Ethernet still is.

Find a Partner in the Digital Camera Business

Use the relationship to promote digital photography and video on the Mac. Of course, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD would be a big part of it, too. Apple needs to push the digital hub idea harder than anyone else. And while it’s likely that Apple has new digital doodads waiting in the wings, there’s no reason to let competitors grab the spotlight in the meantime.

Unwrap Some Bundles of Joy

Apple mostly sells à la carte, and has used rebates, but it should try selling an occasional bundled system at an attractive on-the-spot cash discount. Perhaps a G5, a monitor, and a quality photo printer for a few hundred bucks off?

Do Something Better with .Mac

I like this bundle of services and software and I use it all the time, but Apple needs to better articulate the .Mac features and really make something of this good idea. I’d begin by cutting the price and including a full year of .Mac with every new Mac. Apple bungled the transition from the free iTools service, annoying many Mac users who still refuse on somewhat misguided principle to have anything to do with .Mac. Enough already on both sides. Cut the price, swallow pride as necessary, and make .Mac a must-have for every Mac user.


I’d like to see Apple bring a little color back to the lineup, especially to the consumer-oriented iBook and iMac lines. And as much as I like brushed aluminum, wouldn’t it be just too cool to have a jet-black PowerBook G5?

What do you think?

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (6)

Paul Barker · November 3, 2003 - 12:44 EST #1
I agree, somewhat, with the comment about adding some color, although let's not go all the way back to the multicolored iMacs. I don't want to see "flavors" showing up again. It's hard to convince your Windows user cohorts that an Apple is a serious computer when it's lime green. Black is a good suggestion. That way, I can polish my shoes and my laptop at the same time.
George Krueger · November 4, 2003 - 12:27 EST #2
I think the biggest problem with Apple's advertising is that they only advertise a product when it's new. In other words, a new iMac is released and they you'll see TV commercials for about a month, then nothing until the next new product. Apple really needs to focus on continuing advertising for existing products.

Another thing that I've noticed while looking through the weekly sales flyers in the Sunday papers (other than the fact that Apple should start distributing these in the markets that have Apple Stores) is that Apple needs be more active in the way their resellers advertise Apple products.

What do I mean by this? Take your typical Best Buy sales insert. You will undoubtedly see the top-of-the-line Apple product (and, therefore, the highest-priced) on the same page as the bottom-of-the-line corresponding PC product (and, therefore, the lowest-priced). The average person seeing this isn't going to compare the features of these. They're just going to think, "look how much more expensive the Macs are!" How can you sell a $2,000 iMac next to a $400 generic piece of crap?
Sox · November 9, 2003 - 19:37 EST #3
Nice marketing ideas. I would like to throw in two more from the perspective of a recent switcher:

1. Direct the marketing to web designers and developers. This is the one simple reason I recently switched. The moment I learned that OS X came preinstalled with Apache, PHP, and Peal, that G4 iBook looked more interesting than ever. And then, when I heard how easy it is to configure these services together, that was the moment I placed an order. I, like many other PC-based web designers and developers, did not know this before someone told me about it. If OS X could somehow bundle MySQL on top of all this, it would've shaved another 15 seconds before I picked up the phone and called Apple Store.

2. Develop and distribute a comprehensive PC to Mac migrating tool. I would loved to have seen a suite of freely available tools on every Mac sold that has the ability to easily and accurately export bookmarks, e-mails, addresses, and other pertinent personal information from a PC to a Mac. If Apple spent more time developing intelligent migration tools for PC users and less time developing irrelevant and arrogant switch ads, their campaign would've been more successful.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · November 24, 2003 - 22:15 EST #4

1. Excellent point. I've taken this for granted since I've always favored Macs. You're right, though, it's a strong selling point Apple could exploit.

2. Apple sells Detto Technologies' Move2Mac which is a great utility to do what you describe. It was even rather prominently touted earlier in the switch ad campaign. Sure, it costs $50 and is not bundled with Macs, but I don't have a problem with this. If Apple bundled this third-party utility, it would certainly have to offset the cost in some way and I think existing Mac users who are upgrading machines shouldn't have to pay the premium for a utility they'd never need. Look at it this way—$50 is a lot cheaper than what a for-hire technician would end up charging you by the hour.
Tomas · November 29, 2003 - 05:27 EST #5
Many of the changes you mention sound like good ideas, and Apple does need to get more recognition for selling real computers and not "toys." The .Mac transition was especially bad, and I'm one of those who refuse to have anything to do with it, but I disagree that my reasons are misguided. At the time of the transition, I had six Macs (and a Unix server) supporting my company. One of the things I believed when Apple initially said it was that a e-mail address came just as part of the good deal of buying a Mac. When they transitioned, the only part of what is now .Mac that I was using were the e-mail addresses. $100 a year was too much to pay for the privilege of having an e-mail address that offered Apple free advertising. I've used Macs since 1986 and I've lived without .Mac all that time. For me, there is nothing I need that only .Mac offers. If there were something that .Mac offered me that was worth $100/year, I would get it, but I have not seen it. Sorry! Tom Unix user since 1982
Mac user since 1986
Matt Coates (ATPM Staff) · November 30, 2003 - 15:19 EST #6
It's hard to argue with anything you say--.Mac is great for some people
and of no real use to others. But I still think that a lot of Mac users
were unrealistic when they figured that iTools was forever free. I would like to see Apple offer an e-mail only account for a reasonable price and also bundled into the purchase of a Mac. I also don't get your point that a address is free advertising for Apple. Unless you own your domain, all e-mail is an ad for the provider. But, in any case, to each his own. I certainly don't think that anyone who doesn't want .Mac should pay for it. I'm just calling for a little realism in expectations.

Thanks for the note.

Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article