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After years of Apple picking on Microsoft with their ‘Mac vs. PC’ ads, Bill Gates and the evil empire are finally swinging back. Who will win this round?

Microsoft Vs. Apple

Back in June 2008,  the tech world – and yours truly – was obsessed with the all-encompassing marketing hype surrounding the Apple iPhone 3G launch, while Microsoft had just awarded ad agency Crispin, Porter + Bogusky their $300 million consumer-branding campaign to make Microsoft cool again.

I did Part 1 of the ad campaign showdown podcast pitting Apple vs. Microsoft.

Listen to this post via podcast (recommended):

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Or continue reading it as a blog post:

Since then, the iPhone has been the one with some PR problems, Microsoft has rolled out some new ads with some serious star power, and that podcast has been the third most downloaded out of 23. What, did you think Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would be more popular than an interview with Wired Cover Girl and self-promoter Julia Allison? Please.

New Apple iPhone 3G TV Commercials

In round one, I made the following predictions for the iPhone TV ads, saying they would tailor the message to the medium, leaving the web to explain all the tech specs, while predicting the TV commercials would:

  • Avoid 3G tech speak and keep it simple
  • Focus on a few key attributes
  • Give situational demonstrations, highlighting
    • The slick user interface
    • Features that differentiate from your ‘normal’ cell phone
    • Applications like mapping while in a cab

Not that I really went out on a limb, but I was spot on.

View all Apple iPhone TV ads

They started one ad by specifically saying ‘So what exactly is 3G?’
And how did they explain it? Not in technical terms, but by simply saying ‘The internet, twice as fast.’


And sure enough, each individual ad has focused on just one or two tasks, such as surfing the web, using a map, or in recent spots, highlighting the application store (remember that part about differentiation?), showing games, location services, and apps such as Lonely Planet guide in Mandarin.



How has my personal experience been with the iPhone? It’s scary how much my life has lined up with their ads. The scenario I predicted in the first episode of me being in a cab and tracking my location via GPS? It was a godsend on a recent trip to Seattle when I was staying at a friend’s house in a part of town I was unfamiliar with.

And that commercial about downloading a Lonely Planet app to help you speak Mandarin? Just watched it for the first time. However, 3 weeks ago, I downloaded a nearly identical program in Japanese called LingoLook, to help me with my upcoming trip to Tokyo.

Overall, what has my experience been? Well, I’d have to agree with most of the people that took a recent iPhone satisfaction survey, which was summarized on Wired.

  • It’s truly an amazing piece of technology. It is much more like a computer than a phone. A+
  • Surprisingly, the greatest benefit to me has been the iPod. Sure, I had a Nano before this. But since I have my phone with me all the time, that means I have an iPod with me all the time, so I am constantly listening to podcasts. A+
  • Has the phone service been crappy? Yeah, pretty much. I’d give a C.
  • E-mail, voicemail, mapping, weather, sports scores, web surfing, video, Twitter – all have lived up to the hype for me. A+
  • Battery life? I can toggle some features like Bluetooth, WiFi, and fetching new data on and off and get through almost 2 days on one charge. So I charge it every night and I’m fine. Isn’t that what most people do anyway?
  • But the good news is, I’ve seen improvements with the App store and software. Little things like the speed of scrolling through contacts. I didn’t expect absolute perfection on day 1, and I’m encouraged that it’s only going to get better.

New Microsoft TV Commercials

In the first ad campaign showdown podcast, I made the following predictions for what Microsoft would do for their commercials:

  • Alex Bogusky needs people to be sympathetic to the PC guy
  • Soften some people’s hatred toward Bill Gates, positioning him as an ‘aging billionaire philanthropist’
  • Start with the gamers

Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Let’s look at three campaigns that have come out.

# 1.  The Mojave experiment
With this, Microsoft was convinced that much of Vista’s problems were a matter of perception. So they did an experiment, where they first asked people in focus groups what their impression was of Vista.  No shock that everyone said they hated it.  Then, they brought them to a computer and told them they were being shown a demo of a new operating system. People were blown away. Except what they were really seeing WAS Vista.

And that got me to thinking. In my very first podcast episode where I compare a Porsche to an iPhone, I give the reasons why I switched to a Mac.

But I have an honest confession to make. I have never ever used Vista.

I was one of the people that also based my assumptions purely on the hype of what I was reading, and not from using it myself. Now thousands of people can’t be totally wrong – I’m not giving Microsoft a free pass. I specifically remember a senior co-worker training me on Windows 3.1 for my tech support job back in the early 90s, and have used every version since, with my share of headaches.  But I never honestly gave it a chance. So I got to thinking, why is that?

The reason I determined, was that not one computer that I know of in any of Wired’s three offices in New York City and San Francisco had it. Like past jobs, it was the IT department that ultimately decided what operating system I would be using day in and day out, at least at the office.

So technical issues aside, a major marketing issue is that Microsoft didn’t convince the powerful IT gods that Vista would be worth rolling out.

But overall, I love the ‘focus group’ tactic. It definitely made me more aware of the effect of Apple’s constant pounding of Vista in their ads.

# 2.  Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld ads
As I predicted, the ads positioned Bill Gates as a lovable man of the people, actually putting him in that exact situation … moving in with a family so they could get to know him.

The first ad with them buying shoes? I didn’t think it was that effective. I bet it left a lot of people wondering what the heck was going on.

The second ad was better, and heck, I’ll watch anything with Seinfeld in it. Which is why I was disappointed that they canceled the remaining spots featuring Jerry. Do you believe the agency’s spin that only 2 ads were planned for this phase, or that the rest of them were tossed based on user reaction? We may never know. But I was willing to give them a chance.

# 3.  Microsoft’s I’m a PC ads
Aha! The giant from Redmond finally swings back! Finally, a counter-punch from the dazed former champ.

  • I like the fact that they address the Mac ads head on and the PC lookalike says that he’s been made into a stereotype.
  • I like that they’re throwing out real numbers, trumpeting the fact that there are billions of people on PCs. The average person probably wouldn’t know that Macs, even though they are gaining at a solid rate, still have less than 5% market share.
  • I like that they’re showing real people doing real things
  • And I like that they are reaching out to the community and uploading viral videos

Yes, Microsoft has a long way to go to overcome the perceptions of Vista, and they’ve let Apple gain tremendous triple momentum, dominating music players, blowing away the phone industry, and making huge gains with Mac sales.

And internet rumors like the one that came out this week that the I’m a PC ads were made on a Mac don’t help.

But like Coke vs. Pepsi, The Red Sox vs. Yankees, or Nikon vs. Canon, things are a lot more interesting when there’s a good rivalry. Stay tuned.


Follow me at Twitter.com/hopkinsonreport.

View all of Wired’s podcasts.


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