More and more as I look at the Apple computer advertisements over the past few years, I’ve wondered…are Apple and Microsoft really THAT different? You know, the nerdy PC guy who tries to fend off a variety of PC system and aesthetics criticism from the chillaxin’ Apple guy? Sure, the companies have different roots, product offerings, technology, and most importantly perhaps, brand images, but recently I’ve pondered if the dweeby Microsoft guy and laid back, clever-than-thou Apple guy could share a mouse, or at least a cab.
No doubt, it’s a smart, engaging strategy to personify and pit the PC’s Evil Empire against the Cool Understated Company (and damage every other PC maker with Windows in the process), but aside from the computer market , which Apple will realistically continue to undersell Microsoft, Apple has expanded its product lines to be a hugely successful consumer electronics company with brand recognition that matches and even exceeds Coca Cola, Nike or dare I say the American Flag. Apple may not have achieved computing domination, but it has succeeded branding intimidation – You can’t touch this.
They are also a mega-corporation that would read like many companies of today: layers of bureaucracy, stock backdating charges, questionable practices with competitors, and publicity misfires. So it’s safe to say the days of the little company that could are over.
And before anyone hurls rotten apples at me, I, myself, have prayed at the Church of Apple Faithful for years, but that doesn’t mean I can’t “think different” about them either (get it?). My nostalgic feelings for Apple go back to my college days: firing up my box-shaped, latte-colored Macintosh in News Reporting I class – No PCs with their complicated DOS, awkward interface and ugly looks. Mac was intuitive, a cinch to operate, WYSIWYG. So I fell in love and didn’t even know I was in the midst of a collective, exuberant loyal base of users helping to catapult one of the most powerful brands in the world. Over the years, my Macs have grown up with me as I made more money and pined for the latest and greatest Apple technology. And my loyalty runs deep: I’ve argued with corporate IT to keep my Mac, been rejected by many a software programs, can’t navigate on certain web sites (I still bill one of my clients on a library PC). But here I am typing away on it – because I love my Mac and always will.
And many others have caught on to the Mac’s charm over the years. The core Mac base of graphics and design individuals and agencies has fanned out to smaller, edgier companies, independent sorts, curious folks wanting to see what all the fuss is about, and Apple’s computer market share is starting to catch on – at least a bit. But really with their other products creating reams of revenue, how important will that be in the long run?
Witness iPod: It revolutionized how we listened to music even though it may have not been the first or best MP3 player on the block, just the best designed and marketed (Zune and Sansa never had a chance). Add to that Apple’s number #1 music buying business, iTunes, and that one’s in the bag too. But wait… there’s more: the wildly successful iPhone that is embraced by the masses, loved by phone retailers, and obsessed over by application developers (“Curb Your Enthusiasm” had a bit last season about George from “Seinfeld” developing the iToilet application that lets you know the closest clean bathroom – the reality cannot be too far behind). I’m not so sure about the recent launch of iPad (kind of obvious but seems to me no research was done on name? ya think?).
But back to Seinfeld – seems like the ad pummeling from Apple finally spurned Microsoft to start a wave of responses to their enemy. The first attempt using Jerry Seinfeld to pump up Microsoft and Vista in an offbeat way were a failure. People just didn’t get it. More successfully, the “I’m a PC” series with consumers rejecting Macs with comments like: “really nice but too expensive”, “I’m not cool enough for a Mac”, “They are based on looks”. Ouch – all those unsaid things Mac-haters said out loud.
And the Windows 7 release sparked another round of punches from both sides (Apple smartly and not surprisingly first). Though Microsoft was prepared with a Windows 7 campaign, it went back ten steps when they recalled the “Family Guy” Windows 7 campaign a few days after it started as being “inconsistent” with the Microsoft brand. Apparently Bill never watched this ribald show before he gave the nod to the campaign.
Apple, 2 . Microsoft, 1. And the beat goes on.
So when all is said and done…it comes down to the one question I asked myself: are Apple and Microsoft really that different? Yes they are..but. Clearly Apple has better technology, superior design, and more clever, consistent advertising and branding. But they are similar in one, very important way: Lil old underdog Apple is finally and securely on the same playing field as the Evil Empire now – if not an even better position. They are both large corporations with the resources to throw at marketing – whether successfully or unsuccessfully. And I, loyal Apple customer, will continue to buy my computers, iPods and sure enough iPhone from them, but make no mistake, I know I am buying from one of America’s biggest most successful companies, not the underdog I knew in college.