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  • Apple’s Ads: Why Not Fact Check Dell Too?

    June 27th, 2006

    I don’t take TV ads very seriously. Some are mildly entertaining. Except when I’m watching a live broadcast, however, I’m too busy whizzing past them with my DVR’s fast forward function. Unless the claims are overtly bogus, rather than just mildly questionable, I don’t give them much attention.

    But this doesn’t happen if you’re Apple Computer and your every step is put under the microscope. Poor Steve Jobs must sometimes think he’s put in the same category as the President of the United States rather than just another CEO, because he can’t do or say anything without lots and lots of second-guessing.

    So when the “Get a Mac” ad campaign debuted, and everyone (including this site) began to talk about it, it was only a matter of time before someone got the bright idea to really make an effort at fact checking. Understand that if Apple did overemphasize a point to make a sale, it won’t wreck your life, or your finances. It’s a personal computer, not a drug with a thousand and one side effects, or an auto that, lacking side curtain air bags, may be more susceptible to harming its occupants in the event of a crash.

    But I should give PC World’s Harry McCracken his due. He did take his quest seriously, and thus subjected Apple’s new spots to a fairly extensive degree of examination in a recent article. Better him than I.

    Before getting to the point, McCracken spends several paragraphs reviewing the quality of the ads before he gets to the actual claims. As far as the latter is concerned, Apple seems to fare well as purveyors of TV ads go. While the accuracy of some of the claims may be “vague,” he points out that Apple attempts to back them up at its site with additional information and declares it “a pretty good overview of points in the Mac’s favor.”

    So far so good. But would a computer magazine render the same treatment on ads from other PC makers? Shouldn’t their claims, whatever they may be, be given similar levels of scrutiny? I mean Apple wants to put itself in the same league, so fair is fair, right?

    Well, this creates a larger problem, because PC companies are circumspect about making overt claims, except for the specifications they share with the competition. Dell may, for example, tell you how cheap its entry-level boxes might be, but it doesn’t actually say those prices are less than, say, HP or Gateway. It might be inferred, but the scripts went through the appropriate level of review from the company’s lawyers, and hence are meaningless.

    The one that may, on the surface at least, seem misleading is the one about Dell’s 24/7 support. Yes, it’s true, but that has nothing to do with the quality of help you get if your Dell PC is misbehaving at three in the morning. Notice, they make no claims on that score, which is good, because they’ve had technical support problems in recent years. That’s one of the things they vow to address as they try to repair slowing growth.

    So far, there’s not much meat for McCracken and his PC World colleagues to explore. Then there’s that dumb Gateway ad where people carrying cartons containing computers are sprinting through a field. The company’s ad agency no doubt felt it was conveying a message when the campaign was greenlighted, but it escapes me, beyond the impression of being especially dumb.

    Of course, when one PC maker is selling essentially the same commodity product as dozens of others, it’s really hard to do much to distinguish itself. For the most part, I bet a large portion of the audience actually thinks the ads are all done by Intel, since its logo appears at the end, the better to claim those co-marketing dollars.

    Companies that make soap or laundry detergent actually fare better because, based on tests from such resources as Consumer Reports, some are truly better than others. Ditto for washing machines and air conditioners. I don’t need to mention autos, where there are tremendous quality differences from one model to another. If you can’t push quality, you just tell the prospective mark, I mean customer, how much of a bribe you want to give them to take delivery of your product.

    In the scheme of things, however, Apple is a rare breed as advertisers go. They are actually making factual claims, and it appears they are largely correct, even if you have stretch a bit to reach that conclusion. That’s something good, right? I’m just wondering.



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    13 Responses to “Apple’s Ads: Why Not Fact Check Dell Too?”

    1. Andrew says:

      I like Apple’s adds and have actually watched them a few times on the Apple website. While there are some exagerations (PCs not working with a digital camera), for the most part they are truthful. Since the digital camera girl was so pretty, I’ll even let that one slide.

    2. Ivo Wiesner says:

      I don’t know about those ads… I fear they can backfire quite easily. Why create an artificial distinction between imaginary PC and Mac users? Stereotypes like that don’t exist in the real world. PC users aren’t all dumb and paunchy, and Mac users aren’t all unkempt dudes who wear black jeans – well, I am not, for a start.

      In my book, this is a negative ad campaign, trying to exploit the supposed weaknesses in one’s ‘opponent’ while failing to focus on the positive aspects of one’s own offerings, which is the very part of the message most viewers would be interested in. Negative campaigns don’t work in politics, so why should they work in marketing computers?

      Apple is not going to win over PC users by making them feel bad about themselves. The vast majority of them don’t even know that there are alternatives out there. They have been using PCs for years, not because they are so great, but because everybody else is using them. The dominance of Windows is not a result of choices made by well-informed citizens, but of human herd mentality.

      Apple makes great products, so why not show them off? How about getting a well-known celebrity to briefly demonstrate how easy it is to operate OS X, and then casually drop some info about near-perfect net security, all of which would be of greatest importance to potential switchers. Keep it simple, and keep it positive.

      These ads put me right off Apple, and I love their products.

    3. Andrew says:

      Negative campaigns DO work in politics, suffering through our second 4 years of George W. Bush because of his Swift Boat liars campaign is proof of that.

    4. Al says:

      So many people think the actors in these Apple comercials are portraying computer users or computer owners.

      What is it about “I’m a Mac”, “I’m a PC” that you don’t understand?

      The actors portray computers, not people. They do a very good job of making Macs look cool and PC’s look like stuffy business machines.

      Well, Macs are cool and PCs are stuffy business machines.

      The ads say nothing, one way or another, about computer owners or users.

    5. Actually, I believe the Network ad was strictly true – if you plug a digital camera into a PC, you get the annoying “Add new hardware” popup, and you need the CD ROM to set things right. You can just plug that same digital camera into a Mac, and it will work.

      On the other hand, I have long since gone from that to using a card reader in my Mac. It’s a lot faster and works better. I’m disapointed that the new Macbooks will use a card slot that apparently won’t accomodate the size of the compact flash cards, and so I’ll be stuck carrying an external card reader.

      This does seem like a big step backwards, and you’d think Steve Jobs – who I’m sure has used a digital SLR or two – would have seen this problem coming.

      D

    6. Ivo Wiesner says:

      Andrew, I feel your pain… But I also think that Diebold played a bigger role than any TV ads. (Sorry Gene, this is very much OT).

      Al, concerning “What is it about “I’m a Mac”, “I’m a PC” that you don’t understand?” – I didn’t know that computers can talk and look just like real people? I thought computers look and behave like, well, computers. Thanks for explaining these ads to me, that was so helpful.

    7. Peter says:

      One of interesting things about the ads is that both Ivo and Al are right.

      What?

      Al is right. The people in the ads are caricatures of a PC and a Mac. The best examples of this are, in “Network”, where they’re holdings hands. Most human beings don’t communicate that way (and I have yet to see a digital camera that pulls a picture out of it’s rear-end :^). Most people don’t sit around in boxes, like in “Out of the Box.” These are meant to represent the devices, not the user.

      However…

      People can become emotionally attached to their purchases and like people to see them as the sum of their purchases. To use myself as an example, I drive a little red sportscar. While I’m not flagrant about it, I do like it when people compliment me on my car or stare or whatever. I like the idea that people see me as my car–attractive, nimble, etc. Yes, I know, it’s vain and tacky to think that way.

      There are those who have that kind of investment with their PCs. And because they see themselves as their PCs, they will see the caricature of the PC in the Apple ads as being themselves. “I’m not a boring, stodgy, uncool person!” they complain. “Apple is offending PC users!”

      But are they? Does the average consumer have that kind of emotional investment in their PC?

      I’d argue that they don’t. Today’s Dell customer could very easily be tomorrow’s HP customer. And Windows? It came with the computer–there’s no allegiance to Microsoft in the average consumer. In fact, considering the pains that the average consumer is going through regarding Windows, people would like to have an alternative.

      The number of people who have that kind of emotional investment in their PC is small and tough to market to–especially with a 30 second ad. Consider your typical Mac zealot–how would you convince a Mac zealot to switch to Windows?

      So, Ivo, the ads wouldn’t work on you. The fact that you see yourself as the PC caricature in the ad betrays your investment in Windows. But–and I hate to be the one to tell you this–you’re a pretty small demographic among Windows users.

    8. Poster says:

      1. There’s nothing wrong with Apple’s ads. They’re ads.

      2. Kerry wanted to stress his military service when he spent the immediate years following ‘Nam meeting with the NV govt in Paris, spreading lies in the Winter Soldier hearings, and publishing books (“The Modern Soldier”) that he refuses to reprint, when he wasn’t throwing away someone else’s medals. You call the Swift Boat folks negative when they pointed out how Kerry’s positions and words were used to torture our own guys in ‘Nam and pointed out internal contradictions in Kerry’s own stories? Oh yeah, right. That’s real negative.

      3. You say Diebold (and insinuation). I say “South Dakota Indian reservation scandal.” You say Diebold (and insinuation). I say “Palm Beach voter admin board member driving around with a Vot-a-Matic in the trunk of his car”. You say Diebold (and insinuation). I say that there was no evidence of voter disenfranchisement in Florida in ’00 and ’04; they took it all the way to the Feds and could find nothing.

      But hey, nothing’s a better strategy to say “Bush is dumb” and then fail to beat him with your vast intelligence. *rolling my eyes*

    9. Ivo Wiesner says:

      What..? This is just so funny, Peter, I have never owned a Windows box, and I hope I never will. I am about as Mac-purist as it gets, without being silly about it.

      And that was my point. The supposed distinctions (stuffy v. hip) between Mac and Windows are pure fantasy. And now that both platforms run on the same chips this should be even more obvious. In fact, by reading through the commentaries on my favourite tech sites, I get the feeling that there is going to be a big push soon for both platforms to converge more and more, now that they can run on the same hardware. The cries for OS X to come pre-installed on Dells and HPs will grow louder and become more frequent. Just wait. And I am beginning to wonder if Boot Camp and Parallels are only the beginning of the end of the entire PC v. Mac debate.

      Coming back to the ads, yes I find them slightly offensive, as a *Mac* user. I don’t identify with that sloppy street look, although I mostly wear casual clothes myself. But I don’t like stereotypes, no matter what kind. They will always offend or misrepresent someone, so it’s best to leave them well alone.

      More importantly, I think the ads are just plain poorly conceived. Why? Because they overcomplicate the main selling points by introducing all kinds of supposedly clever roll-play, while the actual products – Mac desktops and notebooks – hardly get a mention.

      It would have been so easy to produce visually striking ads. Just place a Mac next to any other computer, and it is obvious which one comes out tops. Show how seamlessly the different i-applications integrate with the rest of the OS, such as Safari and Mail.

      I love my Mac. I just can’t get myself to like these ads.

    10. Terrin says:

      Sorry, I cannot resist.

      Poster:

      When the Vice President and a Supreme Court justice are best friend hunting buddies, and that same Supreme Court member refuses to remove recuse himself from cases involing such an apparent conflict of interest, do you really expect the “feds” to find something?

      Moreover, the SwiftBoat ad was created by a person in Bush’s administration, illegally I might add. Personally, I do not know enough about the topic to state who is right and wrong. I do know, however, that Kerry actually volunteered for combat duty. That says something about Character.

      Republicans used to joke about Clintons “I did not inhale.” OK, well at least he wasn’t snorting coke, and getting pulled over for DUIs.

    11. loganson says:

      I think the ads are simple but make some very good points. They are not without substance. The ads point out that macs are simple to use, set up and network. We also learn that macs are in a lot better shape as far as viruses and malware. These are old news to us mac people who frequent articles on macs and the mac community. It is, however, news to some pc folks who don’t even know who Apple is or that they make computers anymore. Let’s face it, the average pc user is clueless about the mac and has probably heard some negative comment about the mac not having software or being really expensive or whatever. That is the goal of these ads: to dispel some common views of potential customers.

      Time will tell if the ads are effective.

    12. Jonathan says:

      anyone know that smug loser in the Apple commercial…I want to kick his elist ass!!

      Negative campaigns work for the majority of Idiot americans – no wonder Bush won both times…Rove really worked the campaign – appealing to the religious hypocrites, people who are fearful, and drunk hicks who want their 3 dollar tax cut while those they supported get thousands…

      losers!

    13. John C. Randolph says:

      Jonathan,

      You hate “elitists”, and then you go on to call the majority of Americans idiots?

      Does your face hurt from sneering so much?

      -jcr

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