The role of Apple marketing in my switch

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.

In Store
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.


Anonymous said…
According to Fast Company, Microsoft is indeed going to start taking on Apple directly in their advertising.

As far as Alex Bogusky's job of making Microsoft "cool," good luck with that. Andrew Keller's claim that "to try to be cool is to not be cool," describes Microsoft to a T, with its lame hipster early Zune marketing and a prominent entertainment division executive going so far as to shave his head, undertake an extreme wardrobe makeover, and legally change his name to "J" - all in the hope for street cred with the tech kiddies.

Yeah, we can smell the desperation.
David Alison said…
@Chris: Cool - thanks for the link, interesting story. MS has the money, the problem is that ultimately they have to count on others to sell their products. This is where Apple has a huge advantage. Selling both hardware and software—something once thought to be a liability—gives Apple the ability to set the tone for the entire relationship.
Anonymous said…
Microsoft's attempts to counter Apple's adds can be compared to Bill Gates' PowerPoint Presentations with Steve Jobs' Keynote Presntations!!! They are Bogus and Empty like the Sky. Perhaps that is the reason why they selected Bogusky (Bogus + Sky)!!!
Unknown said…
Apple actually does use banner ads. I see them frequently at the New York times site. In fact, they're often fairly elaborate (for banner ads) in that they often show up as two banner ads, with the characters in the vertical ad interacting with action in the horizontal ad above.

You can find some on Youtube. Here's one to start you off:
Anonymous said…
carl said...

i think apple's advertising is excellent. phrases like "the legendary superdrive" (really? legendary?) and "it just works" are part of a sophisticated marketing effort. long before i bought a mac, the marketing kept calling out to me to give it a try (but it was the intel switch and windows compatibility that did it for me).

but i don't like the mac/pc commercials. why? b/c they remind me of the part of the "apple community" i find tremendously annoying. before i purchased my first mac two years ago (and i still use windows via vm ware), my brother suggested that i go to some of the apple sites and hear what people were saying. after a while, i came away with the feeling (several feelings, actually) that a big part of the apple allure (for many) was this sense of exclusivity, of being smarter people, etc. now, many luxury products work hard to create such feelings re: their product -- but they don't belittle others for using other products. a good example concerns the whole trojan issue: i regularly see mac "fans" state/suggest/hint that windows users are less intelligent/less computer savvy/near luddites because they click and open when they should ignore and delete. and some of these commenters lament, ironically, that as apple gains wider usage among the great unwashed, these people will mess it up for everyone else. now, i suspect that as more people give apple a try they probably won't read the "fan sites" as i did. i guess i see apple and microsoft and similar companies as just that: profit-making machines. they don't represent religious philosophies, illuminate questions of good and evil, etc. i suspect that as more users come to apple, some of this, yes, superiority, will evaporate or, better, assume a more mature expression.
David Alison said…
@Carl: Interesting point you bring up. There will always be people that can only feel superior by putting down others; their happiness and sense of self are determined not by themselves but is relative to the people around them.

I found a very different tone in the Apple community when I made my switch at the beginning of this year. At least on Mac-Forums I was always treated well when talking about the switch and when people posted with questions they rarely got anything but helpful replies, even the trolls that bated others.

It was that community that actually played a key roll in my interest in moving so quickly and thoroughly towards Mac. You made your switch a couple of years ahead of me so perhaps that's why we're seeing it a little differently.
J.cob said…
Love the blog. Apple fanboy myself but I was impressed by the HP "hands" ads that came out a couple years ago. They had celebrities shot from the neck to the waist. One had Jay-Z but apparently he's an apple guy when HP isn't paying him. Here's one with Shaun White the snowboarder for those that haven't seen them.
Anonymous said…
I don't watch TV, but I like checking out the Web's Apple commercials once in a while. The UK ones are pretty funny.

I liked the Sony Vaio "Don't work at home" commercial from a couple of years ago. :)

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