Apple makes its sales pitch

So about a week-and-a-half ago, the state of the computing industry moved me to observe:

The release of Windows Vista has been delayed… again. Concerns over viruses and spyware haven’t eased up any, so far as I know. And, as Forrester Research reported a little while back, Microsoft doesn’t really inspire the warm fuzzies among its clientele, particularly those who are A) affluent, B) big online spenders, and C) more likely than not to start directing some of those dollars Apple’s way.

While all this is happening, look at what Apple’s got cooking. It makes the most popular music player in the world—Apple said it’s shipped more than 50 million iPods—which has given the company an in with the Windows crowd. It will be rolling out brand new Intel-powered hardware all year long, raising the specter of performance improvements. I’m not saying Apple needs to break out the Ellen Feiss footage, but jumping on any reports of general Windows dissatisfaction with the message that there are viable alternatives might not be a bad idea.

Let’s flash ahead to Monday night, when I’m decompressing from a long day at the office by watching a little SportsCenter . The Bucks-Pistons highlights make way for a commercial featuring the guy from The Daily Show —no, not that guy, the other guy —and the kid from Ed . And they’re pretending, respectively, to be a PC and a Mac.

Yes, it’s a brand new Apple TV commercial. And one that apparently has jumped on reports of general Windows dissatisfaction with the message that there are viable computing alternatives.

I will now pause to marvel at just the latest example of my spooky ability to get Corporate America to do my bidding and contemplate just how to use my freaky powers next. (“Corporate America…get me a pizza !”)

The ad I saw is one of six that make up Apple’s new “Get a Mac” campaign. The commercials—and Apple’s accompanying Web page —appear aimed at debunking some of the reasons why shoppers might resist buying a Mac: performance, compatibility, and the like. There’s also a healthy amount of attention devoted to the benefits of Mac ownership—ease of use, powerful apps, the works.

On the whole, I like the ad campaign, though some commercials are better than others. (The aforementioned “Viruses” is great, as is “Network.” The Wall Street Journal ad ? Not so hotso.) It’s difficult enough to describe concepts like “user experience” in a 1,000-word article, let alone a 15- or 30-second TV spot. But using actors to represent two different computing platforms is a clever way around that problem, allowing Apple (and its ad agency) to address some pretty nebulous topics in an engaging, funny way. Your average consumer mulling over a computer purchase doesn’t want to hear a point-by-point examination of virus protection or interoperability in a TV spot—they’re just looking for reasons to consider a particular brand, and Apple’s latest bunch of ads delivers just that. You can do everything you’d want to do on a PC with a Mac. And you can do it better and with a lot fewer hassles.

Which is not to say that these ads are perfect. In a visual medium, it would seem that you would want to show off the product you’re hoping to sell as much as possible—in these spots, a Macintosh (an iMac Core Duo, to be precise) only makes a cameo appearance at the end. Also, why is the computing platform best known for its unmatched aesthetics and superior design being represented by an actor who looks like he slept in his clothes? I’m not saying the Mac actor needs to be decked out in an Armani suit, but maybe it could look like he’s seen the business end of a comb sometime before the camera starts rolling. (And yes, typing those last two sentences made me feel approximately 534 years old.) Then again, I’m sure advertising executives could point to oodles of market research that back up these particular decisions, which is why I spend my time writing about TV commercials instead of creating them.

Quibbles from old-fogey armchair quarterbacks like myself aside, the “Get a Mac” campaign looks like a strong effort from Apple to attract disaffected Windows users—but it should be only half of the game plan. The other half is to keep producing must-have hardware. Once you’ve convinced people that they should buy your product, it’s more important than ever to offer them something worth buying.

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