How this 1996 Macintosh brochure set the tone for future Apple ads

"Why do people think Apple Macintosh computers are better than PCs running Windows 95?" Let Apple fans tell you.

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Credit: Christopher Phin

I helped out my friend Keith this week—or more accurately, I helped out Keith’s wife, Bridget, this week—by filling my car with what can only be described, if with affection, as a load of old Mac crap from their attic, and decanting it to my increasingly crowded home office.

Among the gems (which you’ll meet over the next few weeks) was the above brochure, “Why do People Prefer Macintosh?” Produced in 1996, it’s a collection many thousands of words long of case studies and quotes from the public, sourced from the now-defunct, about why they are Mac rather than PC users. Or to quote page one: “…more specifically, why do people think Apple® Macintosh® computers are better than PCs running Windows 95?” 

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It’s a fascinating little time capsule, not least because while the Windows experience it describes bears little resemblance to what anyone buying a PC today would have, the Mac sounds remarkably familiar. What’s more, the very messages Apple is using here, nearly two decades ago, to market and promote its products are often the same ones it uses today, whether implicitly or explicitly. The clever thing, of course, is that here it could cherry-pick which of the thousands of submissions it would include in the brochure, so it ensured each one reinforced its own corporate marketing messages yet had them being spoken by someone more apparently impartial. In other words, while the words below aren’t literally Apple’s, their inclusion shows they represent its key marketing bullet points. 

First, the classic “it just works” comes through time and again throughout the 34 pages of testimonials, sometimes subtly, and sometimes literally spelled out. “I spend all day fixing crashes on the Windows 95 network,” says David Caren from California. “But I never get one call from the art department to fix the Macs—because they just work.” 

Joshua Brown from Utah agrees so vehemently that he resorts to all-caps: 

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And Marc Zeedar from California joins the chorus: “The point is, on a Mac it just works. You don’t have to know why or wonder if it will work next time. Plug it in. Work.” 

How often too have you heard Apple shout that one of its key differentiators is the tight integration of its hardware and software? Well, chalk up another mark. 

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That’s John Bartleson of Washington reminding us that this close integration brings a range of benefits. The first of which he chooses to highlight is multiple monitor support, a feature so banal today that it’s good to be reminded it was once a major technical headache—at least on Windows!

Unsurprisingly, indeed, Windows’ complexity comes in for a kicking over and over again, and one of the common soft spots that the commenters aim for is the wall of acronyms and opaque technical terms that regular users are forced to understand, in contrast to the Mac. 

Here’s Rossen Roussev from Hungary, recounting a tale—which I strongly suspect they’ve at least lightly editorialized—of a Windows-using friend configuring their PC to access the internet: “…it only took me about three hours to fully configure my ODIPKT.COM driver and the WINPKT.COM to support the TRUMPET WINSOCK TCP/IP protocol. Of course, I had trouble with the IRQ address on my ethernet card, and then the vendor address for the WINPKT, but the two LAN administrators helped me!” 

Contrast this with Canada’s Hans Sorensen, networking his Power Macintosh 7200 in 10 minutes—a paragraph of text that’s redolent of the classic “there’s no step three” Jeff Goldblum ad for the original iMac. 

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And cost? That’s another classic Apple vs PC fight, isn’t it? Again, the arguments here are familiar. There’s the idea of support and running costs from a business point of view… 

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…but there’s the comfortable old canard about Macs lasting a long time. “My Macintosh Iix has remained fully functional for seven years now,” says David Landrith of Virginia. “This is an eternity in the world of computers. I use it to host WWW sights.” (Proof that even Apple’s proofreaders aren’t infallible.) 

You have to love California’s Charles Hoff—who makes the point that through constant upgrading even his “trusty ol’ Centris® 650CD computer sittin’ under a pile of other stuff” is still powerful and useful—not just for the point made, but because his first example is “What? GIF’s have more than 256 colors? ‘Send me a board that shows ALL of the colors!’ I said on the phone.”

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Not all of the stories are practical and pragmatic, though, which befits the world of Apple evangelism. Wade H. Nelson of Colorado says that he’s “never met a PC user who said they loved their PC. Mac people say it all the time.” 

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And some of the submissions got a bit… creative, for better or worse. 

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I would suggest you click that last one to view the full poem, but for one thing it would be twenty minutes of your life you’d never get back, and for another, it’s not even the full poem—it continues onto a third page. 

We got a bit distracted there. My point is how similar Apple’s messaging was then to now. For example, there’s a chunk from Joan Tanenhaus about accessibility, still something Apple champions today: 

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And there’s an admirable and familiar focus—witness all of Apple’s most recent TV campaigns—on what you can do with a Mac rather than the hardware itself. “I began to understand the power of the Macintosh philosophy when I watched these fourth graders make presentation after presentation at local and regional teacher’s conferences,” says Jim Monti from Rhode Island. “They weren’t bogged down in a technical quagmire of wrongly set DIP switched or win.ini files that needed to be reconfigured. They were given the opportunity to fly.” 

And, says Susan Kohler from Virginia, her Windows friends call and ask her “Why doesn’t my CD Drive play music?” and… 

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Even Apple’s most recent “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone” campaign has a resonance in this document from 1996, in this story from New York’s Scott Rothstein. “When people try to tout Win95, they say it’s ‘just like a Mac.’ This is considered praise. Have you ever heard ‘it’s just like Windows’ used as praise?” 

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For me, though, the most striking resonance, the most remarkable thing about how people in this brochure refer to and dismiss Windows machines compared to the Mac, is that it so closely resembles the conversations we’re having today when we compare the Mac itself to simpler, friendlier, more robust and task-focused post-PC devices. When Wade H. Nelson says “On a PC, I spend about half my time fighting the machine,” T. Patrick Henebry says “Maintenance and upgrade in the PC world can be a nightmare,” Jeffery Travis says “I began to keep track of the time I spent on the PC doing things I would ‘never’ need to do on the Mac,” and Marc Zeedar says “A Macintosh means I don’t have to worry about the trivial things,” all I can think about is that no matter how much I love and depend on my Macs, they do still require more ministering to and care than my iOS devices. This, though, isn’t a dichotomy, and nor does it denigrate Apple. Indeed, it shows that—as Apple itself made, with the iPod mini, the “iPod killer” that so many companies had tried in vain to conjure up—Apple’s relentless drive keeps it always dissatisfied with what it makes. 

The Mac as a platform is safe for a few years yet—as was Windows in 1996, you might drily observe—but Tim Cook’s bald statement at the last keynote that the iPad Pro represented a clear vision for the future suggests that, like Windows, it will probably become increasingly less relevant.


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