Yep, those cure ads with little kids worked well for Microsoft but now it’s time to take the gloves off with a new set of commercial called “laptop hunters”. You can see the first ad here, with presumably more to come in this series. I also found it on YouTube for the Siverlight challenged.
We meet Lauren, a consumer on a mission to find a computer with a 17″ screen for under $1,000. We’re told, if she can find it, she can keep it. Her first stop was an Apple store, where of course, Lauren can’t find a 17″ laptop at that price. She’s then off to Best Buy where she’s dazzled at the choices (Lauren has not been to a computer store in a while it seems) and she finds the PC she’s looking for, a 17″ model for well under $1,000. The money quote? Her comment when leaving the Apple store. “I guess I’m not cool enough to be a Mac person.” Some folks I spoke to thought this was a mistake, after all who identifies with someone who isn’t cool? Of course, we know that’s not true. Lauren looks plenty cool. In fact, she seemed to have no problem going to the Apple store in the first place. What she really said was “I’m not rich enough to be a Mac person”. These days, lots of folks can identify with folks that aren’t rich enough. It’s a good effective ad, especially for these times we live in. The ad is in fact a riff Microsoft is playing hard these days. Just recently Steve Ballmer said
“Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction,” Ballmer said, via webcast. “The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment — same piece of hardware — paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that’s a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be.”
In short Microsoft is racing for bottom, making the play for cheapest computers on the market, combined with greater selection and choice as we saw in the ad. Now purists might note that Microsoft isn’t being entirely fair or accurate in the ad. They’re not. (I suspect next we’ll see Bob who wants a laptop with a 10″ screen that weighs less than 4lbs and has only $400 to spend. He won’t find anything at the Apple store either). We don’t even quite know what Lauren bought, just that it’s a 17″ screen and was under $1k. Was there bloatware on it? What was the battery life? The processor? Where will Lauren go if there’s a problem with it later on? That’s not the point. Apple’s ads aren’t factually accurate either. (those people really aren’t PCs and Macs and they do tend to exaggerate somewhat). In tough economic times, Microsoft is betting price will be a driver. They are correct. It will. But it’s not just about price alone and this is where the ad falls down a bit for me. It assumes that winning a race to the bottom in terms of price is all that matters or even what matters most.
In tough economic times it’s not just about price but value. Where do I, the consumer, get the most value for each dollar I spend. Or as Oscar Wilde said, “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Apple’s ads have never been about being the cheapest, they are about the value that comes with owning a Macintosh. The differentiation of the PC/Mac experience through hardware and software design that’s what’s been attracting consumers. Apple’s continued to do well even in these times precisely because consumers are extra careful about where they spend their money. They can’t afford buyer’s remorse. Microsoft can’t just make this about cost, it has to show value. It has to show a PC experience that can be equal or superior to a Macintosh experience. Only then does price matter in the long run. Sure, there are some folks for whom price is the only factor and no matter how hard they stretch, they simply can’t afford to spend more than X on any given item. But for many others, price alone isn’t the driver, it’s the total value of the experience and that’s something Microsoft will need to show in the weeks ahead.
Finally, when I first posted the link to the ad last night on Twitter, I got a lot of comments from folks who said they couldn’t see the ad because it required Silverlight to watch and they didn’t want to install Silverlight on their computers. It’s anecdotal, but I wonder if Microsoft has another issue to deal with regarding Silverlight. But that’s another post for another day.