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.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carsten Nielsen March 27, 2009 at 9:44 am

If you’re looking for a $700 laptop, then you’re not looking for a Mac Book.

2 Anthony Watts March 27, 2009 at 9:54 am

So Microsoft has resorted to advertising other people’s products and forgetting to mention they are all running Vista?

3 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 10:02 am

Anthony Watts: Nope, we’re pointing out that there’s a big, varied, cost-effective ecosystem of machines that run Windows (built by many people with whom we have partnerships) as opposed to the Esteemed Competition’s monoculture. That’s XP or Vista right now, but Windows 7 soon.

Windows 7 has impressed a lot of people, even some unliekly ones. At my Coffee and Code sessions, half the people requesting copies of the beta are installing it on their Macs.

4 greywulf March 27, 2009 at 10:02 am

Excellent! Of course, the next step is to install Ubuntu on it……………. :D

5 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 10:05 am

greywulf: That’s what I do, in the form of Wubi.

6 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 10:11 am

Carsten Nielsen: But lots of people are looking for $700 laptops! They deserve machines too.

7 Darvin March 27, 2009 at 10:13 am

Decent ad. Don’t some manufacturers have laptops with Linux installed for usually around 50-100 dollars less then the Windows laptops. So you could even get one cheaper.

8 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 10:17 am

Darvin: Absolutely. And I do bounce between Linux and Windows on my machines. But when it comes time to doing things like making music with software synths or creating web graphics, I switch to Windows because the Linux synth software and The GIMP don’t quite cut it for me yet.

9 Anthony Watts March 27, 2009 at 10:17 am

This ad sends out the wrong message – now MS is positioning itself as the cheaper choice? I thought computing was about the experience, not the hardware.

10 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 10:18 am

Anthony Watts: I would suggest that the impact on your wallet is part of the experience.

11 Darvin March 27, 2009 at 10:35 am

“Anthony Watts: I would suggest that the impact on your wallet is part of the experience.”

OH SNAP!

12 Stargazer March 27, 2009 at 10:42 am

If you ask me the ad is a failure. Although it’s a nice ad for HP notebooks it totally fails to give me any reason why I should buy and use any MS product.

And again MS fails to understand why Apple is getting more and more successful over the years: Apple is not about cheap. And by the way, if you want a proper Vista version and not the Basic versions usually bundled with notebooks you have to dish out a couple hundred bucks more. Or you just install Ubuntu, of course. ;)

13 Anthony Watts March 27, 2009 at 10:48 am

Is part of the experience being told you are not cool too? ;)

14 Stargazer March 27, 2009 at 10:51 am

@Anthony

Obviously. Microsoft = Not cool! That’s the true message of the ad. ;)

15 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 10:53 am

Anthony Watts: I believe that’s part of the experience at the Esteemed Competition’s stores.

16 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 10:59 am

Stargazer: I think it does a pretty good job of showing real people in a realistic situation: “I’m trying to find a machine at this price point”. Remember, we software folks by and large tend to have thicker wallets than the average working person.

Having been inside The Empire for a little bit — not quite six months — and looked around, I would say that at least some people in the company do get why Apple has been increasingly successful, and one of the reasons yes, they are as design-driven as they are engineering-driven. There’s a subtle sea change that’s been going on at Microsoft over the past couple of years, and with that has come changes in its approach. That’s why I joined the company, which is something I’d never would’ve considered a couple of years ago.

17 Anthony Watts March 27, 2009 at 11:05 am

Apple – say it with me… APPLE ;)

I am not defending Apple’s ads – my only point is that this ad is a failure when it comes to promoting Microsoft’s brand, and Windows in particular. I think the strategy is wrong and fails to point out why I should own a PC running Windows – which is Microsoft’s product. They don’t make laptops. They’ve resorted to using these Tough Economic Times® as a way to sell a few laptops pre-installed with Vista. The woman in the ad doesn’t mention why she needs a computer, or what she is going to do with it. I think purchasing a computer solely based on price isn’t a very good way to guarantee a good experience using it.

I will say this though – they ad is a million times better than those bizarre Seinfeld commercials… ;)

18 Anony Mouse March 27, 2009 at 11:08 am

I agree, Joey. Best ad from Microsoft in a looong time.
It was a bit daring from a marketing perspective in some respects (mentioning the competition). It came off as delightfully real and made me remember back to when buying my first computers was as exciting for me as that.

19 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 11:11 am

Anthony Watts: I can say “Apple”; I’m just being poetic.

I will be happy if there’s an ad about the experience at some point, but I think that’s best saved for Windows 7. I also think that the “one point, one ad” approach is probably the better one.

As for the Seinfeld ads, while they were bizarre and ineffective, I’d liek to see one more, if only to get Bill to do another dance at the end. Maybe the “Running Man”.

20 Peter Beardsley March 27, 2009 at 11:34 am

According to this article, she’s an actress and a member of SAG:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j21_czE2W3qfqjnCXv_pZEimzGNQD975VIA80

21 Bob Firestone March 27, 2009 at 11:40 am

I do say it is more interesting than the recent commercials coming out of the MS.

I think the underlying message is a terrible one. This commercial commoditizes windows, reduces it’s perceived value and turns the contest in to price. The person who competes on price is always doomed to lose in the long run.

Apple has done an excellent job of positioning as a premium brand by only offering high end hardware that looks good. Not making it a price contest is why apple has been able to charge more and increase market share.

I did like the Jerry & Bill ads, they gave me flashbacks of the late 90’s when you had no idea what the companies actually did but the commercials were really funny.

22 Dr. Checkmate March 27, 2009 at 11:40 am

But… that’s not an ad for the OS. It’s an ad for an affordable (I’d wager, either a floor model, or an in store rebate) HP.

In fact… They don’t even mention their latest white elephant, Vista.

EPIC FAIL.

23 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 11:44 am

Peter Beardsley: I can’t find it in that particular article, but I’ve seen that pointed out. The ad looks like it was shot in Los Angeles, where every other reasonably good-looking young woman is a member of SAG. The article points out that she is an “office manager and an actress” — I suspect that in L.A., many people suffix what they do for a living with “…and I act” or “…and I write”.

(A few of the super-cool ones suffix that suffix with “but what I really want to do is direct.)

I’ve done enough TV to have a lapsed ACTRA membership.

24 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 11:46 am

Bob Firestone: If price is the only thing that the entire series of ads promotes, then yes, I’d say the underlying message is bad. However, if it’s a “one ad, one point” approach, then I’d say let’s wait and see what the other ones look like.

25 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 11:55 am

Dr. Checkmate: And I said earlier, it’s about the rich and varied ecosystem of machines the run Windows at all price points with different features. EPIC REBUTTAL!

26 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 11:56 am

By the way, could we keep the use of the phrase EPIC FAIL to a minimum? Disagree with me or say something is wrong all you want, but EPIC FAIL is becoming a very tired cliche and is a sign of one’s inability to express oneself beyond popular catchphrases. We’re smarter than this, folks.

27 Dr. Checkmate March 27, 2009 at 12:27 pm

(Agreed on the “fail.” sorry. I got carried away. I do like “rebuttal,” though.)

I don’t think the ad really conveys anything about an ecosystem of machines. It’s just sort of the subject wandering around a showroom looking at the physical specs of the lap top. To me, that just doesn’t highlight anything about the OS whatsoever. In fact, at one point in there she just seems a little bewildered by the array of choices. It could just as easily have been a car ad with her wandering around a used car lot instead. And, while I agree that “ecosystem” may be one of Windows’ strengths, I don’t think that’s pertinent to the purchase of an OS in the context provided by the ad. Regardless of the OS, most users will only be purchasing the one piece of hardware. It will have whatever OS is installed. It makes me think of a hypothetical ad for Blueberry Gum (TM); “Now in blueberry flavor!” Uhm… Well, yeah. If you don’t buy a Mac, you get Windows. Are they bragging about being a consolation prize?

Why is Microsoft advertising anything? I mean, if you don’t get an Apple, you get Windows. Every other laptop manufacturer is effectively advertising Microsoft, why does Microsoft in turn feel the need to advertise a laptop, and why HP in particular?

28 Aaron March 27, 2009 at 12:57 pm

They don’t even mention their latest white elephant…

And GE doesn’t mention what they really sell, electricity (and political influence) They advertize portable sonograms manufactured by taiwanese white label shops. Granted, they have a small GE logo on them, but that’s the same as the Vista logo on the HP laptop.

29 Tim Trautmann March 27, 2009 at 3:06 pm

The AP reports that “Lauren” is – in fact… wait for it… an actress:

“… Lauren, an office manager and actress, heads to Best Buy next, where she ends up buying a Windows notebook made by Hewlett-Packard Co. for $699. …”

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j21_czE2W3qfqjnCXv_pZEimzGNQD975VIA80

30 Joey deVilla March 27, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Tim Trautmann: Hey, Tim! Haven’t seen you in ages! Are you coming up to Toronto for FutureRuby?

She’s an office manager and an actress, according to the article, and I explain that phenomenon (very common in L.A.) here.

31 Tim Trautmann March 27, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Hey Joey, it’s been a while indeed! We missed you at Railsconf ’08. I’d love to come to FutureRuby but I also have Rails Underground in London penciled in my calendar. Can only do one of the two.

RE: Lauren being an actress and SAG membership
If she is indeed a member of the SAG then she is definitely not the casual – “oh I am cute and in LA” – actress. The initiation requirements are quite tough and the initiation fee for a Hollywood branch membership stand at $2,300. Is she cool enough for that? :)

32 Chris March 28, 2009 at 2:06 am

Right on Joey. Love the flamebait :D

It’s sad but true that the only available 17″ Macs are the MBPs (which are waaaay to much for the everyday user) and are far too expensive.

Though, a 13″ screen is all I needed. And bash ;-)

33 mpr March 28, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Yeah, not a bad ad and CB+P covered the bases with the whole “office manager and actress” thing, and I also note Best Buy is a client of theirs too, not sure about HP. It remains to be seen if breaking two rules of marketing (comparing the competition and focusing only on price) make a right. As ever, CB+P know how to get people talking and that in itself is excellent.

34 HermitDave March 30, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I own a macbook. It was my first choice for a laptop and my first laptop.

In the last year a handful of friends have been asking me for recommendations for laptops and I always ask first, “How much do you want to spend?”

“Not much.”

So I recommend a windows PC. If they are newbs and want no-thought support I suggest a bigbox store and the plethora of choices. If they are a bit more brave or a bit tight on the pocketbook, I suggest a eeePC from chinatown, also windows. I don’t know anyone who needs a recommendation who would want linux. i don’t know anyone who needs a recommendation would will run into the usual problems with even Vista — it will do what the average joe/jane schmoe wants to do with a laptop: email, browsing, office, MP3s, maybe some photoshop.

I don’t care how great macs are and how reliable (yeah tell me that as firefox osx crashes every other day) they are, people are more concerned with DOLLARS.

35 Ryan Waddell April 3, 2009 at 9:34 am

Cute girl, cute ad. It does a very good job of pointing out one of Microsoft’s advantages – Windows runs on way cheaper machines than OSX does. And they SHOULD be pointing this out. Macs are definitely high quality (and god, would I ever hate to use that $700 HP… I *really* don’t like the build quality on their laptops and a 17″ for $700? Yikes!) – but not everybody can afford that quality. Or even if they can, they’re perfectly happy only shelling out $500 for a Windows laptop that does exactly what they need it to.

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