Can Apple Advertise the Mac Like the iPhone? No.

Three new ‘Get a Mac’ ads are available (I love Group and Sad Song). I love this campaign, but in various blog comments I see statements about how they’re not good enough, and that Apple should advertise the Mac like they do the iPhone. In fact, I’ve seen comments like this since Apple began advertising the iPhone.

This isn’t likely to happen because there’s no GUI advantage of the Mac over Windows that can easily be portrayed in a 30-second spot.

What I mean by this is there’s really nothing Apple could show that Microsoft (if they desired) couldn’t easily counter with an ad of their own.

Think about it, what would you suggest be shown? Even something as cool as Time Machine could be countered in a spot by Microsoft’s Shadow Copy. We may know they’re not the same, but in the conext of an edited TV spot, they are. Editing is a beautiful thing, and there’s simply nothing either could show that the other couldn’t counter (rightly or wrongly) if they wanted to.

The truth is, when Windows 3.0 came out, even though Apple’s lead over Microsoft was still significant (at least to those who knew both OSes), the world saw them as essentially the same. Desktop. Icons. Windows. Menus. Yep, no real difference here. And once Windows 95 was released, any lead all but evaporated in anyone’s eyes but the faithful.

Apple could easily show the Mac’s great difference in the days of DOS (and the first two Windows versions), but that’s it. Sure, even now differences could be shown in a dedicated demo, or over time, but not in the context of a 30-second TV spot.

The iPhone is in a different position. The reason Apple can do this with the iPhone is because for all practical purposes other phone OSes are DOS compared to the iPhone’s! Apple can show all this stuff knowing full well that other vendors can do nothing to counter it, because they’ve got nothing.

And Apple was right. All you generally see from any vendor is a guy touching a screen, but they soon move away and show something else. Anything else. Just don’t show the user interface beyond the few touch screens and icons they hacked in front of Symbian, or Windows Mobile, or whatever.

This is even true for phone vendors’ web sites. They talk about web browsing, for example, but show precious little of it. To do so would invite a comparison they don’t want you to make. Heck, look at this video from regarding RIM’s new BlackBerry Bold (aka 9000). This thing won’t even be available until Summer, and the interface is weak. RIM would probably like nothing more than to pull the video, but it’s too late. And this new BlackBerry may be the best “contender” against the iPhone yet.

In my view, the reason the ‘Get a Mac’ campaign is so effective is that it manages to tout Mac advantages — and get jabs at Windows — in an age where I thought such jabs were not possible in a short TV ad given the similarities of the two OSes to the masses.

Last June, I wrote that I don’t think users of phones would be as gullible as computer users were 20 years ago. Consumers today are more tech savvy (i.e., they are less intimidated by technology). And while I’m sure some of the “touch screen” ads from vendors fool some people, I believe most will attempt to do what they saw on TV (or on actual iPhones) and immediately see the difference Apple offers. As I put it then:

Go to an Apple store and see the iPhone in action, then see those same tasks on the competitor of your choice. It will likely be no contest.

Apple needs to keep hammering that point home until someone else has at least a “Windows 3.0” interface for their phone.

For the Mac, however, that time passed long ago. They can show the advantages at the Apple Store, of course, but not in a 30-second TV spot. For such a short ad, the ‘Get a Mac’ campaign is both brilliant and effective.

6 thoughts on “Can Apple Advertise the Mac Like the iPhone? No.

  1. The difference between OS-X and Windows is like the difference between a 600 thread-count sheet and 100 thread-count sheet. from a distance they look about the same, yet they certainly feel different up close.

    Mac quality is achieved because Apple sweats the details and avoids hundreds of little frustrations that only become apparent when actually using Windows. No single Windows flaw is necessarily a deal breaker, but taken together, a compelling argument can be made for OS X. That’s exactly what Apple’s Mac vs PC commercials attempt to do. Each ad calls attention to a single broad aspect of Windows where the Mac has superiority.

    I do think Apple should go into detail on some of the technical advantages of using a Mac. But rather than attempt this in a TV ad, I suggest distributing a free feature-length DVD with well-organized content highlighting common uses of the Mac in home, office, and education settings, and calling particular attention to Mac-exclusive advantages. It should feature side-by-side comparisons showing the Mac’s speedier unbox-to-internet connection, faster wake-from-sleep time, more reliable plug-and-play, backup recovery using Time Machine, and other obvious features.

    It should include switcher testimonials from all walks of life expressing how much more fun and easy it is to get things done on a Mac. It should include an IT geek explaining in technical terms how the Mac is more reliable, standards compliant, interoperable, etc. It should include a section on migrating from Windows to Mac, including a quick demo of Boot Camp, Parallels and/or VMWare, plus a section busting the old anti-Mac myths that still circulate.

    This DVD could be bound into popular magazines, given out at stores that sell Apple products, and mailed to anyone who requests it by calling or visiting Apple’s web site. It would cost a lot to produce with Apple’s high standards, but would go a long way towards educating the public in ways that 30-second TV ads (and lousy sales people at big-box stores) never will.

  2. excellent point … in fact I like the way the new Mac/PC ads are versus the old switch campaign – they draw you in from humor rather than something that doesn’t matter – like most Dell or HP commercials – because really all they can advertise in a 30 second spot is price and Intel inside … that’s it.

  3. metroxing,

    Very good article, but I think it way overcomplicates the issue. In my view, there’s a much easier explanation (Occam’s razor, if you will).

    Simply put, if the gap between the Mac’s advantages over Vista was as wide as the iPhone’s over its competitors, then Mac ads could (and should) be like the iPhone’s. But that’s not the case.

    I think people asking for iPhone-style ads for the Mac are missing the fact that the Mac-Vista delta is nowhere near wide enough to show in a TV spot.

  4. KenC,

    Keep in mind that saying “for a Blackberry, it’s not bad” is pretty faint praise.

    The video you linked to I’ve seen many times. It’s clever and well done, but ultimately it’s just a series of screen captures in various text and imaging software on the Mac. Windows can do all that, so how does it show a Mac advantage?

    If Microsoft (or even some enterprising YouTuber) wanted to make a similar Vista video, they could do so. And with both edited down to 30 seconds, they’d be the “the same” in the eyes of the vast majority of the TV audience.

  5. Just looked at the Crackberry vid, and for a Blackberry, it’s not bad. I think lots of BB users will be, like MS WIndows users and say it’s good enough. I love how they use a red version of the generic Mac OS X desktop.

    As for your original point about how difficult it would be to advertise the Mac OS in the way they advertise the iPhone in a 30 sec spot, there’s another YouTube video up, just last week, that does a great job. It’s long, but the author clearly did the project as an Apple advertisement mockup, in order to showcase his skills. He does a great job. I think if Apple were to edit this down to a 30-sec spot, it would do just what you thought couldn’t be done. Here’s the link:

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