Dear Apple: Please think different

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jul 9, 2006

Filed under: Nerd Culture 4 comments

I don’t have TV, but I’ve been hearing rumblings here and there about the new Mac ads. They come off as more of an insult to non-Mac users than an appeal to buy a particular product. Sigh.

Back in the mid / early 90’s, Apple had a brilliant ad. It showed Mom and Dad setting up the new family PC on Christmas eve. Dad was squinting at the sceen, and I think Mom was puzzling over the manual. The gist of it was something like this:

DAD: Not enough high memory?

MOM: Check the autoexec dot bat?

DAD: Maybe we’re using the wrong config dot sys.


MOM: Maybe we’re using the wrong computer.

This was the only time Apple has ever had a real advertisement that was an honest attempt to appeal to PC users. It illustrated an issue which tomented users in the early 90’s. It was an infuriating problem and a complete mystsery to the user as to why they needed to tell the computer how to organize memory usage. Wasn’t that, you know, the computer’s job? This ad took an exsisting weakness and exploited it.

I have no idea how that ad campaign fared, but it made me want to run out and buy a Mac right then.

But all of their other ads – including the infamous 1984 ad – have been appeals to style and attitude. Steve Jobs still thinks he’s selling soft drinks, or cars, or athletic footwear. “Buy this product and you will be one of the smart / beautiful / stylish people”. That’s fine for lots of products, but my Mom isn’t going to shell out an extra $1,000 for a computer with the same features she has right now.

I have friends with PC’s that are clunky and useless because of all of the spyware, adware, and malware they’ve accumulated. The thing never works right. It’s confusing to use. Apple could woo these people by promising them that life is easier on the Mac side. (Is it? I dunno. But that’s what advertising is for!) Some of those people might shell out the extra cash if they think it would lead to a better computing experience.

Apple really needs to take their own advice: Think different guys. Do you want to sell computers or run an elitist social club?

Even though I use a PC, I like alternatives out there that demonstrate that an OS can be stable and secure. It keeps Microsoft’s nose to the marketshare grindstone. Linux is more of a threat in this regard than Mac, but Mac isn’t even trying. Hipster 20-somethings already own a computer, so these ads will either make them feel good about the Mac they already own, or insult them. Is this how you sell things? No, it isn’t.

I’m convinced that the PC weak spot is the proverbial moms and grandmas out there. Baby boomers are a huge market segment, and they have more money than teens and college students. They own PC’s that suck, and could be pursuaded to switch if Apple tried talking to them. A guy nearing retirement isn’t going to buy a computer because some self-absorbed prat in a turtleneck tells him it will make him cool. Apple could go after these people and make a real comeback with market share, but they can’t because they are incapable of thinking different.


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4 thoughts on “Dear Apple: Please think different

  1. foobario says:

    >”Do you want to sell computers or run an elitist social club?”

    I’m assuming the question was rhetorical.

    The dynamic is changing, though – with OSX being candy-coated BSD, now running on Intel hardware and able to run Windows as well, they’re running into a problem where the quality and performance of their product are a selling point to people who wouldn’t buy Apple merely for the hipness factor.

    But instead of reaching out to new markets as you suggest, Apple appears to have made the changes in software and hardware just to enhance the ‘cult of personality’. They don’t want to alienate their loyal fanbase by catering to the unwashed masses… it would dilute the kool-aid too much or something.

  2. Kacie Landrum says:

    I don’t know why everyone always reacts so negatively to the new commercials. My friends and I all think they’re hilarious. The other day a bunch of people were over at my house hanging out and sharing fun stuff we’d found on the internet, and someone mentioned the new Mac ads, and we all decided to drop by Apple’s page and watch them all. We all had a great time, Mac and PC users alike–I especially like the one with the Japanese girl.

    Maybe it’s a generation gap thing, because I’m speaking mostly of teens and twenty-somethings here, and most of the critics of the commercials seem to be adults. Maybe you just aren’t the target audience for the ads?

  3. Nathan H. says:

    I think that’s pretty much the point, Kacie. The ads are targeted squarely at the teenagers abd young twentysomethings that want very much to be cool. Meanwhile, most computers are bought by us old fogies that want something useful.

    It seems like Macs do have several advantages on the usefulness front… but Mac ads would rather protray us as boring old people, rather than suggesting that we should spend a few million of the stockholder’s money on Apple products.

  4. Perry The Cynic says:

    In some happy fantasy universe of mine, people who were told that a Mac would make their computing experience better, would go “Ah! Great. I’ll go and buy one.” In that world, people would say “yes, saving 2 hours/week of hassle for 2-3 years is worth an extra $300 up-front.”

    There are people like that. But from what I can tell, most people don’t do this. They say “I think I understand what you mean by Total Cost of Ownership” (or, more likely, “You’re making my head hurt!” :-), and then they go and buy the Dell Special because it’s $150 cheaper. There is no point for Apple to try to appeal to this group of people. They’re immovable as long as Apple believes in making better boxes (rather than cheaper ones). And face it, Apple thinks its boxes are better.

    I’m not saying these people are stupid or irrational. They just value their time at near $0, and they think the value of computer downtime (for them) is near $0, too. And yes, a lot of them are “old fogies.” Appealing to them (with commercials) is wasted money to Apple. So they don’t.

    Here’s another way of putting it: the young audience is swayed, strongly, by peer pressure and fashion. Targeting fashion and style commercials at them works. Those among the older set who actually care about TCO and downtimes and the value of their time, are much more likely to do research and figure it out out their own. And Apple thinks that if you do the numbers, you’ll decide to buy a Mac on your own. (Yes, I’m simplifying here.)

    I’m afraid that if you want Apple to make commercials for old fogies, you need to first find old fogies who actually would be swayed by them. In my experience, this intersection is too small to carry a broadcast ad compaign.

      — perry

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