By Harry McCracken | Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 10:50 am
The format of the commercial is the same as the “Lauren” one–Microsoft tells Giampaolo that if he finds a laptop that meets his needs, it will pay for it. He wants something with portability, battery life, and power, and brags about his “technical savvy.” He comes across a MacBook and says it’s “so sexy” but then dismisses Macs as being about aesthetics, and says he doesn’t want to pay for a brand. (He may have been chatting with Steve Ballmer, who recently advanced the similar theory that there’s a $500 price premium for Macs based on the logo alone.)
Ultimately, like Lauren, he decides on an HP–the HDX X16, which sells for $1099. I’m not sure if HP should be happy that both of Microsoft’s laptop hunters end up choosing its wares, or ticked off that Giampaolo, especially, seems to be implying that HP computers aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as Macs, and the HP brand isn’t something that people value enough to pay extra for.
Once again, there’s a reasonable message here: Windows PCs offer far more choices than Macs, and it’s possible to get a Windows machine with a lot of features for far less money than the cheapest Macs. (Although Giampaolo, who ranked battery life as one of his key criteria, may be disappointed by the HDX X16–Laptop’s review says it has subpar battery performance.)
Even more than Lauren’s laptop quest, Giampaolo’s boils down to speeds and feeds: He runs around the electronics store (a Fry’s, by the way) talking about clockspeeds and hard drive capacities, and a salesperson talks about discrete graphics with 512MB of memory. Lots of people buy computers this way, and when they’re out to get the biggest numbers for the lowest price, a low-cost Windows computer will always beat the cheapest Mac. Always.
But the weird thing to me about these ads is this: They never mention Windows or argue that the presence of Windows on a computer is a selling point. Instead, they treat the OS as being pretty much irrelevant to the buying decision. That’s how they can get away with suggesting that the price of Macs is all about wasteful cool factor: If you treat the OS as a boring commodity, you can neatly sidestep addressing how Windows Vista compares to OS X. Whether it’s easier to use or less so; whether it has more annoyances or fewer of them; whether security is a bigger issue or less of one; whether the bundled applications are better or worse. And so on. The questions, in other words, that most sharply define the differences between Windows PCs and Macs.
As I said about the “Lauren” ad, the most positive idea you can take away about Windows from Giampaolo’s shopping expedition is that it comes on computers that are cheaper than Macs. Which might be a selling point at the moment, but I can’t imagine that it’s a healthy statement to make about Microsoft’s primary product over the long haul.
I also still can’t quite understand why Microsoft’s ad campaign harps on the notion that Windows PCs provide more variety at lower price points than Macs. It’s pretty much self apparent to anyone who’s ever stepped foot in a store that sells computers, and it’s in large part responsible for Windows’ giant market share and Apple’s small one. I keep coming back to variations on this metaphor, but it’s kind of as if Chevy ran ads showing economy-minded car shoppers choosing a Cobalt or Malibu over an Audi Q5 or A6. The folks in the ads would be making the right decisions for them. But you gotta wonder how many actual people in the real world there are whose buying decisions would be affected by the comparison.