Microsoft to Apple Buyers: It's Hip to Be Square

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Print this article Print

Microsoft is rolling out a new advertising campaign that hits at Apple’s Achilles heel: price. The new campaign aims to undercut Apple’s hip, cool image with Windows-based PC’s lower price and practicality.

The surprise hit of the PC market is netbooks. Small Windows- and Linux-based devices provide just enough processing power and functionality in an affordable package (many cases $200 to $300) that consumers and many mobile business users are snapping them up faster than any conventional PC notebook or Mac.

That’s got many thinking that in a recession price will trump all other factors, including the legendary coolness of being a Mac user. And that’s Microsoft’s thinking in a new ad campaign aimed at undercutting Apple’s perceived quality advantage by attacking its Achilles heel: high price.

In a new ad campaign, Microsoft follows a recent college graduate looking for a notebook with a 17-inch monitor and comfortable keyboard for under $1,000. Visiting an Apple store, the woman is dismayed that the Mac that fits her budget is a small, underpowered 13-inch notebook. She decries that she would have to double her budget to buy a decent Mac. The obvious choice: a Windows PC.

Mac enjoyed a vaunted position in the market as being the computer platform of choice among graphic artists, designers and musicians, but not as a serious business machine. The wildly successful "I’m a Mac and I’m a PC" ad campaign that pitted a hapless nerd PC user against a young and hip Mac user helped personify the Mac as the machine for "cool people."

Microsoft is betting that the recession will change people’s perceptions and buying habits.

The argument for price over quality or "coolness" comes back to the basic premise of a netbook: They’re just good enough to do some things—Web surfing, e-mail, word processing—and at a reasonable price. But netbooks are not quite powerful enough for many consumers and small business owners. They also lack some features to which many users are accustomed—optical drives, multiple peripheral ports, high-density hard drives.

For slightly more money, users can get decent midrange Windows-based notebooks that have all the creature features that consumers and business users want. Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, Dell and Lenovo have launched new products in the $500 to $700 price band aiming to capture some of those price-sensitive consumer and business users.

Microsoft’s new marketing campaign launches in the same week that Apple is taking hits on the quality and reliability of its products. Rescuecom, a New York-based solution provider and computer repair service, this week released a report showing that Acer and Lenovo topped its list of PC reliability and quality. It was the first time that Apple failed to top the quarterly ranking, which is based on computer repair work orders.

While analysts predict PC sales to significantly decline in 2009, there are signs that PC sales are entirely stagnant. Electronics retailer Best Buy reported that annual sales increased 10 percent in its last fiscal year, buoyed by new store openings and, surprisingly, PC sales.

This is Microsoft's third major marketing effort to change the perception of PCs. Last spring saw the disastrous campaign featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld that was designed to leverage the comedian's humor about nothing into a case for PCs (it didn't work). The campaign was replaced with the "I'm a PC," a more conventional series of commercials that showed real PC users in their real-world settings.

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.

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