Magazine article Newsweek

I'm A PC. Keep the Change

Magazine article Newsweek

I'm A PC. Keep the Change

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Lyons

Microsoft was built by engineers. Marketing has always been its weak spot. But its new ads poking fun at Apple hit the mark.

She is an unlikely assassin--a cute young woman with long red hair, geeky glasses and a funky scarf. But make no mistake: Lauren De Long, star of a new Microsoft ad, is a flat-out killer. For three years Microsoft has been bullied by Apple's snarky "I'm a Mac" ad campaign, in which Macs are represented by a smart young hipster, played by actor Justin Long, and Windows PCs are represented by the dorky, dopey John Hodgman. Microsoft has tried to fight back, but its ads have been so bad that they only made Microsoft seem even more lame.

Now comes Lauren, a real-life hipster who looks like a stereotypical Apple customer. In the ad, which debuted March 26, a documentary-style film crew follows Lauren, who's been given $1,000 to buy a laptop and is told she can keep the change if she spends less. Along the way, she visits an Apple store, only to discover, to her dismay, that the only laptop she can afford is a last-generation model with a puny 13-inch screen. (She wants a 17-inch screen; at Apple, a laptop like that costs $2,800.) De Long's stinging line, delivered with a sigh as she's driving away from the Apple store: "I'm just not cool enough to be a Mac person." At the end of the spot she ends up buying an HP laptop for $700--and pocketing the $300 difference.

The ad makes an obvious point: Macs cost more than Windows PCs. But there's a far more damaging subtext: that people who buy Macs aren't necessarily cool, clued-in hipsters. In fact, they might just be poseurs who paid too much for a computer-slash-fashion accessory. The deeper subtext is that these days, wasting money doesn't make you hip and smart--it makes you stupid. In the age of the collapsing economy, frugality is the new cool.

Apple won't comment on the new Microsoft campaign. But on tech blogs, its fans are sneering that De Long's bargain-priced laptop is a piece of junk. They're even questioning the ad's premise: De Long, it turns out, is a part-time actress, which has led to charges the ad was, in fact, scripted. De Long has declined interview requests, which only fuels suspicion. However in an e-mail statement to NEWSWEEK, she insists, "I was completely unaware that I was filming a commercial." Microsoft also insists the ad was not staged, and they have a half dozen more of these real-life-customer ads waiting in the wings. In any case, the ugly attacks from Mac fanboys are exactly what Microsoft was hoping to provoke, says David Webster, general manager for brand marketing at Microsoft. He says the idea was to turn Apple's "I'm a Mac" campaign to Microsoft's advantage. "We associate real people with being PCs, [but then Apple] ends up looking pretty mean-spirited, the way they go after customers," he says. …

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