One of the most successful branding campaigns of the last decade paired nerdy looking John Hodgman and laidback, too-hip-to-seem-hip Justin Long in Apple's now-iconic PC vs. Mac series of ads that harpooned all of the Windows platform familiar weaknesses. From its basic unhipness to its notorious restarts, and even to the Vista debacle, Apple was merciless in its targeting of the rival, dominant operating system. The beauty of the campaign is that unlike other brand-on-brand hit jobs the ads rarely seemed mean. The haplessness of Hodgman's persona and the familiarity of the anti-PC complaints somehow insulated Apple from looking unfair. They were sticking it to the man...at least a few years before they ended up becoming 'the man' themselves.
The great series has been collected at the AdFreak blog. All 66 ads that ran on TV and across the Web in various forms have been arranged in chronological order for our perusal. The first ad actually starts with Mac offering back-handed compliments to PC for all that it does so well (generally officious tasks) as an entrée for highlighting the Mac superior skill set.
The full set of ads ran between 2006 and 2009. According to AdFreak editor Tim Nudd, who collected the ads for the blog, every spot was directed by Phil Morrison of Epoch Films for TBWA/Media Arts Lab.
The series of ads had a long life online as well. It was with this campaign that Apple.com started featuring its latest spots as a kind of content value add. The creative foundation of the product comparison and the characters of course became mainstays of online video-enabled display ads. Among the best iterations I recall were the synchronized skyscraper and leaderboard units in which PC usually would move from one frame to the other. Several years later and we still haven't seen that level of eye-catching creativity in display advertising repeated.
Everyone has their favorites, and I invite you to post links to some of yours, perhaps with thoughts about what you found so compelling or convincing in each.
For me, the series wore out its creative welcome as the references to Windows got too explicit and too obvious. I much prefer some of the early playful jabs. "Restarting," in which PC literally freezes several times on screen and reboots is still a favorite.
Also "Better Results," which has Mac produce Giselle Bundchen as his Mac-made home movie, while PC welcomes a hairy-legged guy in drag.
To my mind, watching a video series like this struggle to remain creative and funny and on message for such a run is rare and instructive. For my money, it demonstrates how less is more. In a branding campaign where the media buy assures frequent viewing, you need a creative strategy that doesn't wear thin. Obviously, Giselle doesn't wear out her welcome, but in other respects the spots that make the more vague references to the rival platform with a comic pay off are the ones that register best.That the series translated so well to online video display ideas only adds to the genius of the campaign.