Is Apple Really Afraid of Microsoft’s Laptop Hunter Ads?

July 16th, 2009

The news that Apple legal asked Microsoft to stop running its controversial laptop hunter ad campaign must have made the hearts of Windows fanboys flutter. Does this mean that Apple is afraid of the truth, that they are being hurt by Microsoft’s expanding ad campaign?

Supposedly the objection was the result of Apple’s recent price reductions on the refreshed MacBook Pro lineup. But you also have to remember that all we know about that supposed notice, which came in the form of a phone call, comes from Microsoft. Nobody from Apple is going to confirm that such a thing really happened, and even a denial would only draw more attention to the claim.

Now before we look at the motive behind this alleged phone call, consider this: Apple didn’t send a legal letter to Microsoft, an action that certainly would carry more significance. So even if someone from Apple did get in touch with Microsoft, the communication was essentially an informal one, and the source of that call isn’t being named. It might well be that someone in Apple’s legal department made the call of their own volition, without actual authorization. Or maybe it came from someone pretending to represent Apple.

Indeed, the sole confirmation that such a thing even happened is actually limited to the verbal recollection of one Microsoft executive, COO Kevin Turner. Despite what some of the lurid headline writers may think, that call, from whomever it came, is not an official or formal request to pull down the ads. From what Turner says, it may just have been intended as a humorous reminder that Microsoft is running spots that are now outdated because of Apple’s price changes. That may be the beginning and end of it, but Microsoft is using that event to buttress its contention that Apple is being hurt by the ads.

I’m skeptical, simply because Mac sales are on the increase again, and as you’ve read here and elsewhere, two models in the MacBook Pro line remain backordered. I suppose you could suggest that Apple might have done better without the Laptop Hunter ads, but the mention of Apple and their products is so brief and flitting that the point of the variety and cheaper price of a Windows PC is not really brought home.

As far as I’m concerned, the ads are so poorly produced as to be almost amateurish, and I’d suggest to Microsoft that they find a competent producer and redo them forthwith. In fact, if Mac users hadn’t drawn attention to them, I rather suspect they would have eventually disappeared from the airwaves. But maybe that was Microsoft’s intention in the first place, since there are so many flaws in these alleged comparisons, flaws that are easily found. Worse, the ad isn’t about Windows or its supposed advantages, but about someone getting a chunk of money to buy a note-book computer. It’s all about price, and perhaps to promote HP, Sony and and other manufacturers whose products are supposedly bought during those ads.

Who was it who said there is no such thing as bad publicity?

Apple’s real response came in the form of a statement to the press that a PC, regardless of the price, is no good if it doesn’t meet the needs of the buyer. The same argument is cited when Apple is asked whether they plan to build a netbook. The keyboards are cramped, the screens are tiny, the computers are slow. Beyond basic Internet access, email and some word processing and basic checkbook apps, what are they good for?

The netbook is hardly an original concept either. The form factor is similar to the Apple eMate 300, designed as a larger version of the Newton, dedicated to the educational market. Indeed, my son, Grayson, was attending elementary school when he was given one for a few months. He played with it for a few minutes, handed it to me to look over. After trying out a few functions, I returned it to him, he put it in a drawer and forgot about until it was time to return the unit to the school.

This isn’t to say that a netbook, properly designed, can’t serve a purpose. But a good design doesn’t mean shrinking a note-book, and scrimping on features. Besides, the PC makers in that market are pushing expensive add-ons to boost profits, and they are slowly enlarging the form factor until it becomes little more than a standard note-book with a low-powered processor. In order words, it’s a product without any vision behind it.

As to Microsoft, maybe those Laptop Hunter ads will vanish in a few months, though as long as we can’t resist dissing them, I suppose they’ll remain on the air. But if they fail to increase sales of PC hardware, and, in turn, Microsoft Windows, they’ll end up being a colossal waste of money.

And, to sum up, it’s very clear from the facts at hand that Apple legal didn’t direct Microsoft to stop the campaign.

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11 Responses to “Is Apple Really Afraid of Microsoft’s Laptop Hunter Ads?”

  1. In other words, Microsoft bends the truth, again. The only thing funny about this is that Microsoft, an 800-lb gorilla, is now playing the victim. I guess that’s what you have to do when you’ve set up price as the thing that sells your products (a losing proposition if there ever was one).

  2. DaveD says:

    If I were in Apple’s shoes and looking at Microsoft’s antics, two phrases come to mind.

    The first is “jumped the shark.” This phrase derived from the TV show “Happy Days” where in an awkward episode one of the main characters actually jumped a shark. Someone coined that phrase to indicate at what point a successful TV series began to go downhill. Now, the meaning has expanded to include anything that is in decline after days of glory.

    Microsoft jumped the shark with Windows Vista, an attempt to copy the Mac OS X. Unable to recapture that amazing moment when a Mac OS copy known as Windows 95 made its debut.

    The second phrase, “Stupid is as stupid does,” came from the movie “Forrest Gump.” The main character who is not that bright uttered the phrase from time to time. No matter how bright one is, doing stupid things is stupid.

    Microsoft’s TV commercials from the “Jerry Seinfeld’” to “laptop hunter” ones. Nothing was mentioned about Windows with Jerry and Bill, and the same with the laptops. What is this I am reading about a Microsoft retail store this coming fall?

    Apple does not have to be concerned with Microsoft these days which is spinning out of control. An indication as to where Apple is heading is a new East Coast data center.

    Mobility and wireless connectivity are the common features resulting in the strong sales of laptops, smartphones, and netbooks. With the popularity of the iPod touch, I believe that Apple is working on a better netbook. Something to showcase at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next year.

  3. Louis Wheeler says:

    If Kevin Turner is so ignorant about how much the price of Apple laptops have dropped, then he is likely to be ignorant about the identity of his caller, too.

    If he were diligent or honest, he would have verified these facts before speaking.

    So, it sound like braggadocio. Is Microsoft really reduced to hiring 16 year olds to speak for them?

  4. Harvey says:

    If there actually was such a phone call (which I highly doubt because anyone with even the slightest knowledge of law knows that one company has no legal control over another company’s advertising) it may not have been someone from Apple’s legal department, but perhaps someone from Apple’s PR department asking Microsoft to amend their misleading advertising to reflect Apple’s current retail prices.

    But regardless of this, I still can’t understand why Microsoft (a company that makes computer software, not hardware) is spending many millions of dollars advertising other companies’ computers. This is especially weird when you consider that more and more people buying these computers manufactured by Dell, HP, Sony, etc. are dumping Windows in favor of running Linux or even “Hackintoshing” Mac OS X to run on this very same hardware.

    The answer is probably because Microsoft can’t show their own product, Windows, in a positive light when comparing it to Mac OS X. That is why we haven’t seen commercials like this, and never will.

  5. Peter says:

    But regardless of this, I still can’t understand why Microsoft (a company that makes computer software, not hardware) is spending many millions of dollars advertising other companies’ computers. This is especially weird when you consider that more and more people buying these computers […] are dumping Windows in favor of running Linux […]

    Well, you must be the only one who doesn’t.

    If you go buy a Dell computer, Microsoft makes money. If you go buy an HP computer, Microsoft makes money. If you go buy a Sony, etc., Microsoft makes money. If you go buy a Dell computer and put Linux on it, Microsoft makes money. If you go buy an HP computer and put Linux on it, Microsoft makes money. If you go buy a Sony, etc. and put Linux on it, Microsoft makes money.

    So, in other words, if PC makers sell lots of computers, Microsoft makes money. Which is why it behooves Microsoft to help convince consumers to buy Windows-based computers.

  6. There is that. In that sense, Windows doesn’t matter. Yes, you can wipe the drive and install Linux, or even hack Mac OS X to work on that box. But Microsoft has already made its profits regardless of what you do.

    However, Microsoft is also not providing a reason to choose a Windows-based PC. That campaign is strictly based on price and not value or usefulness for any particular purpose. Just buy, and who cares?


  7. David says:

    Microsoft knows that a large segment of the population will buy on price alone if they believe two items are comparable. Microsoft wants people to believe that a plastic notebook weighing 6 lbs with a battery life of just 3 hours is comparable to one in a solid block of aluminum weighing 4.5 lbs with a battery life of 7 hours. They want the masses to concentrate on quantity and not quality. 15″ is obviously bigger than 13″. The 15″ one may have no more pixels and may look like crap, but it’s bigger and therefore “better”. Microsoft and their Windows licensees doesn’t want fair comparisons because they’d look bad much of the time.

    I never believed for even one second that Apple legal called Microsoft about those commercials. Not only are they full of misleading and incorrect information, they just look cheap. Apple, on the other hand, always produces well finished products. If they can be accused of anything it’s being a bit arrogant, anal and smug. Apple’s attitude puts off a large number of people, but I believe that Apple doesn’t want them as customers anyway. If you aren’t willing to at least taste the kool-aid, then Steve Jobs hasn’t got the time of day for you.

  8. Tired of MS says:

    I think that Mr. Turner has a truly vivid imagination. Something the programming depts. at MS could use.

    FWIW, once MS makes their fifty bucks from an OEM license, that’s it.

    When the owner of the PC wipes the drive and runs another OS on it — MS makes no further money.

    Think of it as, not eating and actually throwing away all of the fries from your Big Bun combo. Sure the fries cost you another 20¢ over the ‘undiscounted’ cost of the sandwich and drink. Yes, you have the option to eat the fries, or not.

    I’d throw them away, and get a Black and White ice cream sandwich to fill me up.

    Or maybe just go with the combo that includes an apple pie, or pay the ‘extra’ to get “what I wanted” to start with. 😉

  9. Apple’s not afraid of anything. They just care about producing great products they’d like to use.

  10. dfs says:

    Yes, in general this ad campaign is lousy. In the advertising business, ads that explicitly knock the competition are frequently regarded as poison: they often don’t work and sometimes they backfire. And it’s always easy to read them as a sign of desperation. But this series is lousy in a more specific way. I have to admit that one ad in the series hit home a little, the one starring the teener who rather unconvincingly identifies herself as a filmmaker. She spurns the Mac because it only has 2 MB of RAM, and, yes, one criticism you can make of Macs is that they usually ship with too little RAM, sometimes to the point that to make them work as advertised you have to pay for the extra memory chips and, depending on the model, you may also have to pay a technician to install them. Which indeed can run up the price, that’s a very legitimate observation. So here’s one case where the writers bothered to do their homework and successfully spotted a Mac weakness. The difficulty is that’s the only ad in the series which manages to lay a glove on the Mac, but even this one is poorly written. She should have drawn the connection by saying “I’m filmmaker and I need more than 2 GB to do my work. By the time I’ve paid for the extra RAM this thing is way out of my league.” The dots just don’t get connected like they should.

  11. @ dfs: There are actually far more problems with this ad. It’s so black and white, that all the proper shades of gray are ignored. Specifically:

    1. She buys a PC with slower RAM and processor rather than spend a mere $100 extra for more RAM on a MacBook Pro. Upgrading the latter is trivial. Upgrading the former is difficult, and probably requires a motherboard swap. Expensive!

    2. The ads ignore the price changes and updated MacBook Pro configurations. Only the basic $1,199 model now has 2GB of memory. The rest ship with 4GB, standard.

    3. A filmmaker would want to use the widest selection of tools of the trade. Both the Mac OS and Windows have Adobe Premiere, for example. A mainstay in the movie and TV industries, Final Cut Pro, is for Macs only.

    4. Logic is way out of her league, obviously.


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