Analyzing Apple's latest TV ads

Sometimes, Apple’s television ads generate as much buzz as the products they’re promoting. The ads that make up the company’s recently launched “Get a Mac” campaign are no exception.

In heavy rotation on television channels across the country, Apple’s new commercials feature John Hodgman, The Daily Show resident expert and author of The Areas of My Expertise as a stodgy PC in a grey suit, juxtaposed with a Mac—a young, hipster in a jeans and t-shirt—portrayed by Justin Long of Dodgeball and Ed . The two banter about various things—viruses, software, slow jams—all of which are designed to show off the Mac’s strengths.

So how do the new crop of ads do? Macworld invited a panel of experts to comment on the TBWA\Chiat\Day-produced spots. Hoag Levins is executive producer of AdAge.com, the Web site of Advertising Age; Barbara Lippert is a columnist for AdWeek Magazine, and Seth Stevenson writes Slate Magazine’s Ad Report Card. We asked them for their opinions on each ad, as well as the overall campaign.

Virus

A sneezing fit caused by “that virus going around” fells the PC, while the Mac remains unaffected.

Stevenson: That is one of the best pratfalls I’ve seen in a while. God, John Hodgman is brilliant. It is really funny. All of them are great visual representations of the concept. They are fantastic in that sense, that they really concisely, in a visual way, illustrate the concept. One issue for me is, I haven’t done a ton of research, but I’ve read things that these distinctions are starting to be less true, that Macs do get viruses now. I’ve read a few things that would make me look closely at these claims.

Levins: Virus speaks a truth that many PC owners don’t fully appreciate — that Macs are far less vulnerable to the viruses that cripple so many Windows machines on a daily basis and this is a fact that can change PC-owner purchasing perceptions.

Lippert: I thought the whole thing with the Virus and Restarting ads was cool and effective. It showed how the Mac can be better than a PC. But I thought they should have done something else with how slow PCs are.

WSJ

The Mac and the PC discuss a review of the Macintosh appearing in the Wall Street Journal .

Stevenson: Now why is the kid reading this? “I just happen to have this great review.” He seems snobby—“we know how great we are.” I resent the demeaning of Jon Hodgman, and I find the kid to be resentful and full of himself. If these are the representations of Mac and PC, then I’ll take PC. There’s no evidence to support those claims. So it’s just some claims and my emotional attachment to the two characters. And my emotional attachment is entirely to John Hodgman.

Lippert L I was going to call Walt Mossberg, because I was surprised to hear his name in an ad. Obviously he can’t accept any money, because that would be a conflict of interest for him to do his column. And so I was surprised to hear Apple use his name in an ad.

Levins: “WSJ” is a bit of bitchy jab at PCs at the same time it accurately conveys the glory road Macintosh products have been blazing through the mainstream press of late. If all these cynical journalists like Macintoshes, they must be good, right?

Restarting

The ad is interrupted when the PC freezes and has to restart; the Mac runs off to fetch IT support.

Levins: The best of the visually spartan lot is Restarting, which is likely to bring guilty smiles to the faces of even the hardest-core PC geeks. What Windows user hasn’t called IT for the 14th time with the same problem and been told once again to reboot?

Stevenson: Again, this makes me like John Hodgman better.

iLife

The PC sadly discovers that it doesn’t ship with the iLife multimedia suite that comes on all Macs.

Levins: “iLife” uses its references to the wildly popular iPod and iTunes to quickly suggest the ease and elegance of the Apple iLife software suite that comes bundled on every Mac. Very sly. Very cool. Just like the product being hyped.

Lippert: This one was very funny, I thought the ‘slow jams’ was very funny.

Stevenson: John Hodgman is funny in this one, with his ‘slow jams,’ and his dancing. But the kid annoys me particularly here. When he makes that little ‘ffffft’ sound, with the hand motion, it’s obnoxious.

Better

The Mac contends that it’s better at “life stuff” such as assembling photo books, editing movies, and creating Web sites.

Lippert: “Better,” I thought, was a very good one. But the more you watch it you think “Oh my God, that’s their whole campaign.” Then you realize the whole thing could have been done by a Mac user on his computer. But [the ads are] so simple, that’s the genius of them. They are so pre-tech and low-tech that they seem like they’ve been icons forever, they seem like they are already in the landscape.

Levins: “Better” captures that elusive essence that has caused Mac evangelists from the earliest days to feel such a kinship with Apple technology. It can’t be exactly defined or expressed, but like pornography, you know it when you see it.

Stevenson: This one I kind of resented because I hate when people tell me this is better, and don’t offer any argument as to why. I’m left wondering, “what makes it better? Does it have a better graphics processor or what?” I’m also not sure about ceding spreadsheet territory to the PC. Have they really designed their brand so that it says “We’re into lifestyle, and if you’re into math, forget it?”

Network

The Mac and the PC speak each other’s language. But the Mac communicates with other devices, too.

Stevenson: I love the Network ad when the Japanese woman comes out and then pulls out the photo print… John Hodgman’s speaking Italian. This one in particular is a beautiful visual interpretation of a complex concept. This may be the best one.

Lippert: I thought at first that was going to be amazingly sexist—like a laughing geisha—but it turned out to much funnier and much more sophisticated.

Levins: Network, which administers the marketing coup de grace in its “Everything works better with a Mac” line, makes its point in a wonderfully cute and memorable manner. Tired of all the device connectivity hassles inherent to PCs? Go Mac.

Overall Impressions

Levins: Apple’s new Macintosh ads are ridiculously simple yet enormously effective. Or, perhaps that’s just because, here at Advertising Age , I work on both a PC and a Mac and live the comparison as a minute-to-minute daily reality. The ads capture this experience in a way that rings absolutely true.

Lippert: My overall impression when I first saw it, I thought, “Wow Steve Jobs has amazing cojones” to picture the Mac guy like that—a cooler version of himself—while the PC guy is a fatter, more Dilbert, version of Bill Gates. And then I realized the guy playing the PC guy is John Hodgman, and I loved his book.

To make it this simple—not to see any hardware or software—is amazing. The feeling, I guess, is everyone who wants to see [a Mac] can go to an Apple Store and see one. I’m not sure that’s the right approach, but I do think that given what the iPod has accomplished, making people aware of Apple, this will stir people in an unconscious way.

Stevenson: In general, I think it’s okay. I like that they have a friendly relationship, an amiable relationship, between the Mac and PC. My problem is that I have a more appealing relationship with the PC guy than the Mac guy. I really like John Hodgman, I know who he is. But the kid [Justin Long] from Dodgeball is this sort of greasy kind of guy, who looks like every other hipster. It’s too on the ball with the Mac image; of course it’s some unshaved hipster in a hoodie. I don’t want to be like that, another unshaven guy in a hoodie with low-slung jeans. I’d much rather be John Hodgman

The other general thing about the ads, they were directed by Phil Morrison, who is fabulous. He directed Junebug , which I thought may have been the best movie last year. He also directed the Volkswagen “Safe Happens” ads which have been everywhere. He’s a stud director even if these ads don’t give him much of a chance. I thought it was worth noting what incredible talent they lined up.

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