First, Lauren. Now, Giampaolo.

First, there was Lauren, and now we have Giampaolo. The ad follows the same “You Find It, You Keep It” formula: someone gets a set budget to buy a new computer and they get to keep any money left over after the purchase. And of course, he picks the PC:

The first ad featuring Lauren got that minority of people who buy Macs for boosting their self-esteem rather than getting stuff done a little riled up and coming up with laundry lists detailing what’s wrong with the ads, and I suspect that there’ll be more of the same with this one.

I’m impressed that The Empire’s ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, came up with another ad that’s neither funny-as-in-strange but nonsensical nor forgettable. It’s also good to a portrayal of a Windows user as attractive, funny and not John “I’m a PC” Hodgman.


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

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=";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.


An Old Univac Ad: “You’re Trying to Divide by Zero”

Here’s a computer ad from 1956 – it’s for Univac computers, a brand name that was as synonymous with “computer” in the same way that “Xerox” was once synonymous with “photocopier”:

Old Univac ad: "You're Trying to Divide by Zero"
Click the ad to see it at full size.
Ad courtesy of Miss Fipi Lele.

Here’s the text of the ad. If it seems a little strange to your modern sensibilities, it’s because it’s ad copy from the era of Mad Men — that’s just how advertising was back then. Note that lack of technical jargon or specs, neither of which would’ve been useful back then, when very few people would’ve known what they meant:

“You’re Trying to Divide by Zero”

A scientist, testing a formula on Univac recently, was amazed to see the computing system stop, then automatically type the reproof: “You’re trying to divide by zero.” A quick check proved that Univac, as always, was right.

This graphic demonstration points out just one of the many Remington Rand refinements in the art of computer programming and operation. For Univac has been trained to spot human errors. It can now carry out commands given in simple business English. It can even manufacture its own program of instructions automatically – at electronic speeds, with unparalleled accuracy.

These skills have been developed as a direct result of Univac’s unique position in the field of electronic data-processing. Because, with every Univac delivered goes 10 years’ experience in electronic computing…5 years’ experience in the commercial type of data-processing. This wealth of background in programming and operation is unobtainable elsewhere.

The unprecedented savings of Univac data-processing have been proved by solving actual consumer problems – not by working out theoretical solutions with non-existent computers. You can be sure that, when you install the Univac, you’ll get under way faster, surer and more economically because the System has already handled similar work.

Univac is now at work in leading organizations throughout the country. And, in today’s competitive market, the company which cuts its overhead first comes out on top. So don’t wait until 1957…1958…or 1959 to cash in on the tremendous savings available to you now with the Remington Rand Univac System.

Some observations:

  • Error messages: while old hat to even modern laypeople, must’ve seemed like a great leap forward back then.
  • “Univac, as always, was right.” Can you imagine even Apple’s blowing-sunshine-up-your-ass ads making that claim about their machines today?
  • “It can now carry out commands given in simple business English.” I’m guessing that they mean COBOL. One era’s technological wonder is another era’s coding horror.

    [Update: Looks like I got my programming language timelines wrong. “mistercow” points out on Reddit that COBOL didn’t appear until 1959 and suggests that the “commands in simple business English” language is probably FLOW-MATIC, one of COBOL’s predecessors.]

  • “…with every Univac delivered goes 10 years’ experience in electronic computing…5 years’ experience in the commercial type of data-processing". These short timeframes may seem quaint, but keep in mind that the concept of what is computable isn’t even 100 years old yet. You should also note that web applications are only slightly older than 10 years and that XMLHttpRequest, which makes Ajax possible, turns ten in the new year (it was released by Microsoft as an ActiveX object for Internet Explorer 5 for Outlook Web Access in 1999).

And finally, two things that a programmer in today’s economy should keep in mind. It’s almost as if they’re special messages sent through time:

  1. “The unprecedented savings of Univac data-processing have been proved by solving actual consumer problems – not by working out theoretical solutions with non-existent computers.”
  2. “…in today’s competitive market, the company which cuts its overhead first comes out on top.”

Although these statements were made back when computers were rare and extremely expensive and well before there was a computer on every office desk – in fact, well before computers could even fit on desks – they hold true today. If you’re a programmer looking to make a living in 2009, it’ll pay to develop applications that solve actual problems and either help people make money or save it. To borrow a line from Don Dodge at Startup Empire, make sure your applications are aspirin (must-haves), not vitamins (nice-to-haves)!


The Lost Decade

First, Andy Serwer, managing editor at Fortune magazine wrote an article titled This Crisis Could Have a Happy Ending. In it, he calls this first decade in the 21st century “one big washout for investors” and “a lost decade”.

He also wrote:

I believe that in order for the market to achieve a sustainable advance that is above the mean, we are due for some unforeseen positive event or events. Think about it. In the 1990s stocks went way up because of an unanticipated revolution in technology, i.e., networking and the Internet. In this decade we had a slew of unexpected negative events – bookended by 9/11 and this current meltdown. At some point, and it may be a few years from now, we will likely be subjected to an unforeseen positive.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson used this article as a launching point for his article, A Lost Decade – But Not for Everyone. In it, he examines the stock prices of some of the big players on the Dow – 3M, Citigroup, GM, Intel, Johnson and Johnson and United Technologies – and declared the Dow “a mixed bag”:

A few disasters (GM, Citigroup, Intel), a bunch of so so stocks (like 3M) and a some winners (like J&J and United Technologies).

For the best examples, he says you have to look beyond the Dow, where you’ll find Apple (“still up 3.5x in nine years”)…

Apple stock price chart, 2000 - present

and Google (“still up 2.5x from its IPO in mid 2004”

Google stock parice chart, 2004 - present

Based on these observations, he writes:

When I think about what’s really going on in this "lost decade" it occurs to me that we are finally witnessing the impact of the end of the industrial era and the emergence of the information era. That’s not to say every "information stock" has done well. Intel and Microsoft have been a disaster. IBM and HP are down for the decade to date. But we also have to realize that the late 90s drove all information stocks up to crazy levels in anticipation of exactly this shift taking place. The market got it right, but as usual it overshot.

It will be stocks like Apple, Google, and companies we don’t even know about yet that will lead us back out of this downturn. And I bet there will be a bunch of companies from what we used to call the "emerging markets" that will lead us out of this mess. I think I’ll call them the "emerged markets" from now on.

Howard Lindzon, whom I met recently at Startup Empire, chimes in with his article, Has it Really Been a Lost Decade in the Stock Market?

If WE are to learn one thing from the ‘Lost Decade’ of S&P, Nasdaq and Dow returns is that any idiot can make money in an up market. It is the down markets that separate the winners and losers.

The ‘Lost Decade’ will spawn many great winners in the decades to come, and the smallest investor has the biggest chance to reap the rewards from a more level playing field of transparency, reduced supply, stronger companies. Don’t be cynical at exactly the wrong time.

It’s time to build the business of your dreams and quit hoping for anything else.

The underlying message in all three of these articles is that the businesses that will thrive in this down economy will address some kind of need rather than a want and be “underowned” and “non-leveraged” – in other words, small and not owing any money. Sounds like small businesses and startups to me.


Kara Swisher Sounds the Layoff Alert

The “Laid Off” slide from Damian Katz’s presentation at RubyFringe.

This does not bode well: Kara Swisher, author of the BoomTown blog and co-producer of the “D: All Things Digital” conference says that while the current economic downturn is hitting bank employees now, it’ll spill over into other industries, and that includes ours:

With the economic situation obviously worsening – don’t say you weren’t warnedBoomTown has no doubt now that Internet companies are in the midst of reevaluating their troop numbers to streamline themselves for the coming few months of financial winter.

There’s general agreement among advertising-supported internet companies that a slowdown in the ad market is coming, and they’re tightening their belts accordingly. This belt-tightening usually takes the form of a double-whammy: layoffs and hiring freezes, and this has led to unemployment in Silicon Valley hitting its highest rate (6.5%) in four years last month, the fourth month in a row it’s increased.

It might not be a bad idea to work on some contingency plans, just in case.