March 2009

Mac Fans Freak Out Over Microsoft’s “Lauren” Ad

by Joey deVilla on March 29, 2009

The best measure of the effectiveness of the new “Lauren” ad is that it’s driving some thin-skinned Apple fans nuts. In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the ad:

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-US&amp;playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:0bb6a07c-c829-4562-8375-49e6693810c7&amp;showPlaylist=true&amp;from=shared" target="_new" title="Laptop Hunters $1000 – Lauren Gets an HP Pavilion">Video: Laptop Hunters $1000 – Lauren Gets an HP Pavilion</a>

It’s one of the greatest strengths of the Esteemed Competition; as a long-time Mac and iPod user, I know first-hand the Apple experience is a very satisfying one that creates a lot of passionate users. This passion led to more than the usual number of pagehits and comments for my previous post on the “Lauren” ad (not to mention more than the usual amount of AdSense cash – thanks for the beer money, folks!) as well as a number of huffy articles including:

Some thoughts:

“Offensive?” Really? 

That’s the term Ed Oswald used in his article. My response: Oh, come on. Imagine the ridiculousness of someone complaining that Apple’s “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads were offensive to Windows users. If all you had were those ads to go by, you’d think that Windows machines were completely non-functional (lies!) and its users were uniformly dull accountant-types (bigotry!). Chill, people – good natured-one-upmanship is part of advertising; heck, it’s part of day-to-day life. If this ad is offensive, I suggest you stay indoors, because you’re not going to like the outside world.

Bob Caswell put it best in this article:

That’s how commercials work, you see. By and large, Apple and Microsoft are playing the same game. A game that Apple started, I might add. And kudos to Apple for starting it; it seems to have worked well for them.

But now that a strong response is out by Microsoft (a separate tangential conversation is whether Microsoft should be throwing so much money at a “response” campaign; that’s debatable), the Apple fanboys are restless (this topic was at the top of Techmeme earlier today) and feel the need to point out the “offense,” “pointlessness,” and “inaccuracies.

Wow. Talk about a classic case of dishing out but not being able to take it.

“But Lauren’s an actress!”

It still doesn’t mean that she’s not someone that the ad agency found through Craigslist, nor does it affect the credibility of the story within the ad. I might as well say “But John Hodgman and Justin Long are actors! They aren’t really computers!”

As I’ve said before, Los Angeles is packed to the rafters with pretty women, whom when you ask them what they do will tell you that they do something that pays the rent and that they also act. Yes, Lauren’s an actress, but she pays the rent with an office manager job. It’s a career path that’s common enough that they make fridge magnets like this:

"Actress" fridge magnet, featuring a picture of a waitress

Contrast this with John “I’m a PC” Hodgman, who pays the bills with his paycheques from Apple, Battlestar Galactica and the Daily Show (there’s also his book deal, but making money off books is a tricky thing) and Justin “I’m a Mac” Long, who pays the bills with his paycheques from Apple, Live Free or Die Hard, Zack and Miri, Pineapple Express and both Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Nobody with any sense dismisses them because they’re actors – they tell a compelling story well, and that’s the important thing.

Apple Doesn’t Need to Have a Monopoly on Good Ideas

That doesn’t mean that the Esteemed Competition doesn’t make excellent stuff – I know from having owned three Mac laptops and a couple of iPods over the past six years.

But Apple’s not the only manufacturer making great stuff and compelling ads, and that’s okay. Some people may not like the idea that the “Lauren” ad exists, just as some people don’t like the fact that a Microsoftie came up with the Coffee and Code idea – and to those people, I’ll remind them of what a smart guy once said:

“We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.”

The man who said that? Steve Jobs, back in 1997, when Microsoft made a $150 million investment in Apple.

It’s a big tech world, and there’s room at the table for a lot of people.

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FIRST Robotics Competition

by Joey deVilla on March 27, 2009

This article originally appeared in Canadian Developer Connection.

FIRST Robotics Competition

I’m going to be at the FIRST Robotics Greater Toronto Regional Competition tomorrow, where I’ll be watching robots built by high school students compete in “high intensity robo-sports”. The robots are six feet tall, weigh 120 pounds and were all built from scratch by the students in only six weeks. I’ll take notes and photos and post my report next week.

The competition started yesterday and runs through tomorrow at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. If you can’t make it there in person, you can catch the live webcast.

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At Last, a Truly Impressive “I’m a PC” Ad

by Joey deVilla on March 27, 2009

First, there were the bewildering Gates/Seinfeld TV spots, “Shoes and Churros” and the extended-length “Living with an Ordinary Family”. Then came the “I’m a PC” spots, which were half-decent, but still not a good enough foil to Apple’s very effective ads. But in classic Microsoft style, the Empire’s ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, seems to have gotten it right with version 3.0. Take a look:

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-US&amp;playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:0bb6a07c-c829-4562-8375-49e6693810c7&amp;showPlaylist=true&amp;from=msnvideo" target="_new" title="Laptop Hunters $1000 – Lauren Gets an HP Pavilion">Video: Laptop Hunters $1000 – Lauren Gets an HP Pavilion</a>

It works. Instead of featuring famous comedians and techies-turned-philanthropists or framing the ad in terms of Apple’s ads, this one gets it right by featuring a story and a character that the audience can relate to.

In the ad, “Lauren”, a cute young woman, is driving around town, trying to get a 17” laptop that’s fast, has a comfortable keyboard and sells for under $1000. She first goes to the Mac store but finds the only $1000 model is the 13” MacBook. She’d have to double her budget to get a 17” model. There’s a great moment when she sarcastically remarks as she drives that “I’m just not cool enough to be a Mac person”.

(Cue howls of derision from Mac fanboy/pegboy Jon Gruber on Daring Fireball in 3…2…1…)

In the end, she goes to Best Buy and marvels at the selection of laptops that meet her criteria. She finds one and squeaks with delight. The camera zooms in on the cash register’s display, which shows the before-tax price of her laptop: $699.99. When asked how she’s going to pay for it, she looks at the camera and says this with great satisfaction: “Cash”. This is the sort of message that will really hit home for a lot of people, given the state of the economy.

Kudos to Crispin Porter + Bogusky for being clever in making these ads. They put ads on Craigslist and similar sites, offering people between USD$700 and USD$2000 to go buy a new computer. They were told that they could keep any money that was left over, which provided them an incentive to look for the best deals they could get. It’s good countermarketing: if Apple is using actors, go with real people.

(And Apple used real people in the “Switch” ad series – remember the series of ads which included “stoner chick” Ellen Feiss? Maybe Lauren is Microsoft’s Janie Porche.)

I’m interested to see what the other ads in this series – assuming it’s a series – look like.

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Sorry, No Toronto Coffee and Code This Friday

by Joey deVilla on March 26, 2009

This article originally appeared in the Coffee and Code blog.

Woman at desk overwhelmed by a pile of paper

I am swamped (and in one case, double-booked) with meetings either online or out at Microsoft’s Mississauga offices all day Friday, March 27th, so I’m sorry to report that I won’t be able to hold a Toronto Coffee and Code this week.

Watch this space; Coffee and Code will return next week!

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The Temptation to Loaf

by Joey deVilla on March 26, 2009

There’s a small TV set in my home office that I sometime turn on – usually to one of the cable news channels — as “background noise”, which I sometimes find helpful when I’m trying to get work done.

Today, I’m on the road in London, Ontario with Microsoft’s EnergizeIT tour. I’m hanging out in the hotel room with my coworker Rodney with the TV on as background noise and here’s what’s on right now:

Photo of "lower third" of the Maury Povich show: "I had a threesome...who's my baby's father?"

When I tell people that I often work from my home office, they ask if I ever get the temptation to plunk myself in front of the TV instead of getting work done. The answer is no, and part of the reason is that there’s nothing but this junk on during the day.

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An Ad for Dharma Initiative Computers

by Joey deVilla on March 25, 2009

This ad won’t make any sense if you’re not a follower of the TV series Lost. However, if you are, you’ll find it amusing…

Ad for the Dharma Initiative's computers: "Chat with your family and friends -- even when they're miles away."
Click the ad to see the original on its Flickr page.

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Road Warrior Office of the Day: London, Ontario

by Joey deVilla on March 25, 2009

This article was originally published in Canadian Developer Connection.

I’m currently in London, Ontario at the Delta Armouries London hotel, where my coworkers Rodney Buike and Qixing Zheng will be doing a presentation for EnergizeIT later tonight. We’re spending the day polishing our presentations and getting the usual administrivial stuff done.

We didn’t want to spend our day cooped up in our hotel rooms, so we asked one of the hotel staff where the business center was. I didn’t relish the thought of hanging out in a business center all day; although they usually have more table space than your typical hotel room, they’re usually some small windowless cave.

We were told that the business center, which used to be located in the basement had since closed. “We got a lot of complaints from women who didn’t feel safe going to get some work done in a basement room late at night,” he said, “so we set up a computer with a printer in the lobby, and another one up in the lounge, where you can work.”

He pointed in the direction of lounge, where we saw this:

Entrance to the Cantata Lounge at the Delta Armouries London Hotel

Well, that’s several steps up from a business center!

(In case you wondering about the architecture of the hotel, it used to be an actual armoury where soldiers were trained during the two World Wars.)

Here’s what the lounge looks like. There’s a bar in the corner, which isn’t open as I write this (around noon). Qixing and I are the only ones here at the moment; I suppose it gets a little busier in the late afternoon:

Canata Lounge, as seen from the far end

Canata Lounge, as seen from the bar

Here’s something most business centers don’t offer – but should! I may have to sample some of their wares later tonight. It’s business research, you know:

Banner on brick wall: "Classic Malts of Scotland: Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Oban, Talisker, Lagavulin"

And instead of the windowless caves that most business centers are, we have this view:

The lobby as seen from the Cantata Lounge

Qixing and I have set up office in one of the big round booths in the lounge. Here’s Qixing and our “road warrior” office setup:

Qixing and computers in one of the round booths at the Cantata Lounge

In case you’re wondering where the accordion is, it’s in my room. I’m bringing it out later tonight, when we’ll be speaking in the presentation room, whose entrance is pictured below:

Fountain in front of entrance to large ballroom at the Delta Armouries London

If you’re coming out to tonight’s EnergizeIT event in London (in the hotel’s ballroom named “The Gunnery”, it’s free and isn’t completely booked yet), we’ll see you there!

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