'I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC': The Collectors' Edition


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 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 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.
3 comments about "'I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC': The Collectors' Edition".
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  1. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, May 10, 2011 at 4:04 p.m.

    Love this write up. It is amazing how in spots created to attack one brand, they managed to make it seem like PC was the mean spirited one. Remember the couple's therapy spot where the therapist asks them to try to be nice. Mac again offers a compliment to PC, "You're a wiz with numbers and you dress like a gentleman..." Only to be insulted in return, leading the therapist to suggest they come twice a week, cleverly making the attacker look like the attacked.

  2. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, May 10, 2011 at 4:20 p.m.

    I'm interested by the use of the term "brand spots" in the front.

    Technically, like many types of spots, these built brand value. But, I challenge the idea that this is primarily "brand advertising".

    What Apple does well is feature their products in their advertising. And the messages were all product and usage related.

    By contrast, the term "brand advertising" is primarily used to refer to lifestyle oriented advertisements.

  3. Steve Smith from Mediapost, May 10, 2011 at 5:06 p.m.

    @Doug I take your point, insofar as the campaign does in fact communicate generally about feature sets, although is the barest of ways in most of the individual spots. But I would consider it branding foremost because the cumulative aim and effect is to convey a brand personality. There rarely was a specific product mentioned, as a matter of fact.

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