Just a few weeks ago I was contacted by Beth Bulik at Advertising Age to talk about my transition from Windows to Mac. We had a long ranging discussion about the merits of switching to Mac. This got me to thinking, what role has Apple's marketing played in my switch? How heavily was I influenced by the regular drumbeat of TV ads, online ads, store displays, etc.?
Though I am an entrepreneur and business owner my marketing experience has been with smaller companies. I never had the budget to run large scale ad campaigns so my knowledge of their effectiveness is minimal at best. I can however view them as an educated layman. What follows are my impressions of the campaigns and marketing material I have been exposed to from Apple and the role it has played in my switch.
The TV Ads
I'll just come out and say that I really like the TV ads with Mac vs. PC. Ironically it's the PC character, brilliantly played by John Hodgman, that I enjoy the most. His angst, the utter frustration he always seems to have is what makes the ads entertaining. The Mac character seems to be more of a casual observer, aloof and slightly pretentious.
What I find interesting is that even with that in mind, the ads are actually quite effective. Always focused on a single message they either dispel myths about Macs or reinforce key strengths. The minimalist background (a couple of people on an all-white stage) focuses all of the viewer's attention. This minimalist ad model has been an Apple trademark for years and they have refined it to the point of perfection.
Another element of this is that Apple is not attacking a direct competitor. The number 1 and number 2 selling computer manufacturers in the US are Dell and HP right now, yet they never warrant a mention in the Apple ads. Microsoft Windows is mentioned regularly but they do not compete directly with Apple, depending instead on companies like Dell and HP for execution.
When was the last time you saw a memorable HP or Dell ad? The last campaign I remember was from over 5 years ago when the young guy was saying "Dude, you're getting a Dell!". The bigger threat to Dell is HP and vice-a-versa. Microsoft is of course the wild card here and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Microsoft try to take Apple on directly.
I don't use AdBlock so I do see banner ads regularly. Rarely do I ever see an Apple banner ad. Some of my context searches have produced results in Google that generate ads for Apple but again, these have had little influence on me personally. I think this is more a reflection of the online advertising market than it is anything else though. If Apple is doing much with online advertising I must not be visiting the sites that trigger those ads.
I have a local Apple store (Tyson's Corner, VA) and drop in fairly often. From the outside the store looks sleek and modern, with displays that present the latest class of computer, iPod or iPhone. You can't window shop at an Apple store. The frosted glass encourages you to come in and see what's going on.
About 25 or so MacBooks, iMacs and Mac Pros are sitting out on the tables just above waist height on one side of the store. Another 25 or so iPods and iPhones are parked on the other side of the store. The Macs are all powered up and either running a demo that is easily dismissed or sitting at the Leopard desktop, ready to be played with. Regardless of how busy the store is there always seems to be an Apple employee standing by, ready to answer questions or walk you through features.
So there is a store front which encourges people to come inside, technology that is easily accessable to anyone walking in the door and helpful, non-pushy employees keeping you engaged. Every time I have visited the store, regardless of the day of week or time, there has been a crowd. The mere fact that there are so many people seems to attract more people.
I have had only one bad experience at the Apple store, my recent experience with my nephew as he tried unsuccessfully to get an iPhone. This was purely a result of Apple depending on a third party (AT&T) and complicated by the crush of interest in a newly released product. In my experience when Apple has had full control of the experience it has been excellent, among the best I have experienced in any retail situation.
What role did all of this play?
For me personally there was a series of events that led to my switch. The TV ads, which I enjoyed watching for a couple of years before I switched, played a part. I found them entertaining and though they didn't initially impress me (I liked the PC character too much), I found myself watching them whenver they came on. In effect the ads softened me up to Mac for what came next.
When several of my friends and family members started getting Macs and talking them up I felt a need to check it out, at least in a little more detail. This was probably the biggest factor in my switch, more so than anything else.
Finally, the Apple store sealed the deal. The experience of walking in, being able to quickly see the technology and get my questions answered without any "Buy Now!!!" sales pressure was great.
While I would normally be loathe to admit that something like ad campaigns and store layouts actually played a role in my technology decisions, the reality is that it did. At a minimum it constantly reinforced that Apple had its act together, presenting a consistent message and brand.
Once that was done the technology itself did the rest.