Microsoft Ads Winning Over More Consumers Than Apple’s

35 Comments

apple_adApple’s (s aapl) fantastically effective “Get a Mac” commercials have entertained us for years now, and they just get better and better. Microsoft (s msft) has been slow to respond, and when it did start to hit back, it first did so with the amusing-but-confusing Seinfeld commercials. Then the “I’m a PC” campaign started, and today we’re seeing ads claiming 4-year-olds are color-correcting their digital images. Yeeee-eah, OK, a touch unlikely but, what the heck, I’m feeling generous; I’ll let it slide.

By far the most effective commercials recently have featured Microsoft’s “Laptop Hunters,” normal folks who desperately need a new laptop,  and so are charged with the task of going out into the big wide world (which would be Best Buy (s bby) and the Apple Store, it seems) and finding a machine that meets their needs. The hook? If they find one for under a specific sum, Microsoft will buy it for them.

My fellow TAB writers have covered some of the issues raised by (and in) these ads. Tom Reestman has looked at the wonderful omissions and deflections from the truth they contain (check them out here and here and here) while Charles Moore recently asked whether Apple’s high laptop prices are sustainable in today’s economic climate.

Now, according to a report by BrandIndex and covered in some detail over on AdAge.com, Microsoft’s laptop hunter commercials are starting to pay off. For the first time this year, the perception of value for money that 18- to 34-year-olds have of Apple’s laptops has dropped, while Microsoft has gained ground.

Which is to say, younger consumers are starting to believe that Apple’s MacBook products are poor value for money when compared with Windows-based laptops. This graph from BrandIndex illustrates the shift. (The brown line is Apple hardware, the blue line Windows-based hardware.)

BrandIndex

Ouch.

Of particular note is the time period of this perception-shift. As recently as mid-April, Apple’s perception scores were riding high — a lot higher than those for Microsoft, in fact. And then, around the beginning of May — boom! The scores became inverted, and suddenly Microsoft is well ahead.

Ted Marzilli, global managing director for BrandIndex, suggests the change is driven by economic conditions. Put simply, younger people have less money to spend and so choose cheaper alternatives to Apple’s unashamedly expensive hardware.

“Apple did a great job of putting Microsoft on the defensive,” Marzilli told AdAge.com. “It made them look old, stodgy, complicated to use and unhip. But Microsoft has started to hit back, and younger folks are more cost- or value-focused.”

Unhip? Who says that any more? It’s not even actually a word.

Anyway, what about older customers? Aren’t they looking to save money, too? According to BrandIndex, the scores between Apple and Microsoft in the 35- to 49-year-old demographic are virtually identical. So we can conclude that:

  1. Older consumers have more money to spend even in the middle of a recession, and/or
  2. Older consumers aren’t the slightest bit impressed by the Laptop Hunter commercials.

But can we be sure that it’s Microsoft’s latest ad campaign that has caused such a dramatic shift in the younger market? Marzilli thinks so. “It would be very unusual for Microsoft’s score to be increasing this much and Apple’s to be decreasing without some sort of event driving that, like a major campaign that’s particularly successful,” he toldAdAge.com.

Certainly, then, it appears that Microsoft’s advertising is playing a central role in this little drama. However, in the background, Apple is definitely playing a supporting role, whether it wants to or not.

A Simple Matter of Mathematics

You see, if we assume the younger demographic polled by BrandIndex (a good proportion, say, the 18- to 24-year-olds) are mostly college students with very limited incomes, it becomes painfully clear that in this area, at least, Apple is missing a trick. The cheapest MacBook is just too costly for most young people to afford. Even the nominal decrease in price the entry-level MacBook enjoyed late last year — down to an “affordable” (Jobs’ own word) $999 from $1,099 — simply wasn’t a steep enough drop.

Five hundred or six hundred dollars will buy a Windows-based machine that is more than adequate for carrying out the basics of personal computing. The usual suspects — email, text-editing, web browsing, and simple media-management — are all covered with the software baked in to most versions of Windows. Sure, it won’t be a sleek anodized-aluminum beauty. It’ll weigh about a ton, offer paltry battery life and, after six months of daily use, be about as nimble and quick as continental drift.

But it’s still half the price of an entry-level MacBook, and if the buyer isn’t already tuned in to the advantages (both real or perceived) of owning an Apple computer, the decision is going to be very easily made; $1,000 on a shiny Mac or five hundred bucks on a respectable laptop? The former costs an awful lot of money. The latter leaves plenty of green for added software, peripherals and, of great importance to these young ‘uns, extracurricular activities.

No one needs an ad campaign from Microsoft to work out the economic returns in making that decision, but it certainly appears to be helping.

35 Comments

P Jacobsen

Forget Apple — want better style and quality of build and materials; go Sony Vaio. I’m a software developer and have been using them for years. Perfect, and cheaper than a Mac.

Larissa C.

“cheaper than a Mac.”
You can say that again!

As much as I love software developers, neither an eye for aesthetics nor user experience do they tend to have even an inkling of. Sure there’s always exceptions, but comparing a Sony Vaio running Windows to a Mac? Really? Really!?

Ninja9899

PCs SUCK!!! macs all the way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! btw, this microsoft ad campaigns were made using MACS!!!! that proves it.

Pedro Remedios

YEAH! People are waking up and starting to see the (low) value of apple’s laptops! Apple better change that! Get more colors for the laptops and a bigger keyboard!!

James

I’m with John (#17) – the numbers from BrandIndex fluctuate so much as to be highly suspect, since there doesn’t seem to be much reliability. Data spikes like that should be the exception, not the norm. Myself, I’m hesitant to believe that, even if there has been a shift in consumer perception, that the Laptop Hunters ads are responsible for it, if only because they haven’t been running very long – I only saw one for the first time yesterday. The overall drop from the high spike started long before the ads started airing, and I’m inclined to believe that Microsoft is responding to the recession in the hopes of shifting perceptions.

That said, let’s be truly honest for a second. The “I’m a Mac” ads are consistently amusing, but they’re not necessarily more forthright than the Laptop Hunters ones – they tend to rely on generalities and stereotypes about PCs and Macs, except with Macs being framed positively. Any ad that has to distill the complex issue of Macs vs. PCs into a 30 second spot is going to make a lot of oversimplification, and it will always, always be to their own benefit.

Liam Cassidy

Eideard,

Thanks for your comment. I’m a bit puzzled at your overtly bitter dismissal of what is, I believe, a very interesting matter.

If the scores suggested the opposite – that Apple’s ads are influencing customer perception in a disproportionately positive manner right now – would you still consider this discussion “time-wasting of the worst sort”?

I think it’s a legitimate discussion – after all, a big part of Apple’s success is its marketing talent. And one of Microsoft’s greatest weaknesses has, traditionally, been its utter *lack* of marketing acumen.

Furthermore, as any marketing intern in any company anywhere can tell you – the perception of value customers have in your brand/products is crucially important to business. That’s why so much money and time and talent is pumped into managing brand identities; companies devote huge reserves of valuable resources into managing customer expectations (read: “value perceptions”).

If these figures are accurate and representative of what BrandIndex claims, the report might indicate a change that has been a very long time coming, and something of tremendous interest (and even concern) to Apple and its loyal customers.

Hardly what I’d call “blathering” or “useless”.

Eideard

All the claim discusses is the perception of perception. After a few decades in sales I admit that means squat.

Cold hard numbers in sales – preferably during an economic period not skewed as dramatically as current context – is what counts. Sitting back and blathering about what adverts are doing to perceptions is time-wasting of the worst sort unless you’re a flack selling adspace.

Useless.

Dave52

Several observations:

1. The criteria the shoppers use in the ads strike me as pretty superficial in the sense that they don’t seem to seriously consider the MacBooks at all and jump quickly to Windows laptops.

In fairness, though, complaining about a Mac only having 2GB of RAM can be a valid criticism if a) that model tops out at 2GB, or b) you can upgrade to more memory, but it requires removing all the existing memory (all slots occupied). [Apple is not alone in filling all the memory slots, however.]

2. Shopping for a Windows laptop is a lot more work than shopping for a MacBook. When I’ve bought Windows laptops, it has taken me days (even weeks) to wade through brands, models, and configuration options, all the while trying to manage price. In the end, the Windows laptop cost me as much as a PowerBook/MacBook but is a lot more hassle to buy, configure, and use. They leave that effort out of the MS ads.

3. Price vs. [total] cost is analogous to the market share vs. installed base comparison, except that nobody ever seems to look at installed base numbers. In my experience, Windows machines become unusable after about 3 years, while Macs last considerably longer. So using market share & “mind share” as a basis of comparison seems pretty bogus. (I have a 7 mo. old MacBook Pro, but I’m writing this on a 5 year old PowerBook and still use my 8 1/2 year old iBook for e-mail and photo storage on trips.)

4. The biggest additional expense I’ve encountered by buying Apple laptops is the Windows laptops I’ve been coerced into purchasing for work and/or school (to be “compatible”). With the advent of the Intel Macs and virtual machine software (esp. the free VirtualBox), that problem has gone away; I wish it had happened sooner.

Jeff

“Sure, it won’t be a sleek anodized-aluminum beauty. It’ll weigh about a ton, offer paltry battery life and, after six months of daily use, be about as nimble and quick as continental drift.”

And that is why I only buy Macs. I have a 4-year-old PowerPC that only show’s signs of slowing down when I’ve had it on for weeks at a time. After a fresh reboot, it’s good as new. Even with Photoshop, After Effects and Final Cut Pro running at the same time. Granted that’s with 7GB of RAM, but it’s still an old processor and standard video card.

And you want a way to get Macs cheaper? Do you have a friend or relative that’s in school or a teacher? They can get up to 10% off.

And don’t about forget that extra money you “save”. You still need to buy an AntiVirus and you most likely will get a stripped-down version of Vista at the sub-$1000 price point. There is no stripped down version of Mac OS.

Howie Isaacks

Eh…. I think their ads are only effective with buyers who care more about price. Honestly, I would love a less expensive Mac, but I don’t want to sacrifice quality and features to get it. The biggest flaw of the Microsoft ads is that they’re not even advertising their own product.

Paul

If this data is true, it just shows how people will believe anything they see or read without questioning it.

dave

Has nothing to do with the ads and all to do with what people are willing to spend. I’d been saving up for a Mac Pro, but decided to get a Dell workstation for 1/4th the price that’ll do just fine.

John

I’m skeptical about this claim. It may be true that attitudes are skewing as suggested. I just doubt that these ads had much if anything to do with it. These ads have been out a relatively short time and have been seen by relatively few people. Plus they don’t seem to be really eye catching ads. You kind of have to really pay attention to follow what they’re on about.

I also doubt that the survey can accurately measure what it claims to measure. The charted data looks quite volatile. If you want to give MS credit for 25 point gap in May what about Apple’s near 40 point lead in February? And how did Apple’s score more than double in about a week’s time and come crashing down two weeks later? Are people that fickle or is it that this survey is unreliable?

How were people surveyed? Were they asked about total cost of ownership? I’m not sure that is a fair question because it would bias people in one direction. On the other hand, if the question was about purchase price that has it’s own bias.

Brian Hogg

@Costanza

Vista was an improvement over XP. They botched the launch of it, and there were problems, but they weren’t as bad as is widely reported. Most of the problems were related to device driver support, which isn’t even Microsoft’s responsibility (and it’s baffling, considering how delayed Vista was; how many years do device manufacturers need?). It was a technically far superior OS, and it was more secure. Many people like the experience of using it.

Why isn’t Vista mentioned in the ads? Presumably because people have bad associations with it, but how many people have those associations because they used it? Most people I’ve heard of who have problems with Vista only know it sucks by word of mouth. And those prominent bloggers who plugged in their old printer to a Vista computer when it first came out and said the OS sucks never came back and looked at it again.

Besides, at this point, most OSes are mature, robust systems; what’re the differences between flavors of Windows and flavors of OS X?

CB

The laptop hunter ads bother me for a couple of reasons:

1. At least a couple of them mention, right at the beginning of the ad, wanting “Viiv”. I guarantee that no one with their purported lack of knowledge of computers knows what Viiv actually is. And no one buys a computer because it has Viiv. Just doesn’t happen.

2. Several of them discount Macs because “it only has 2GB of RAM”. Seriously? That’s like buying a Hyundai over an Audi because someone put better tires on the Hyundai. It’s just disingenuous to market software based on the most easily replaceable hardware element of a computer.

3. The chick that says she needs to cut video. I can’t stand her. At the end, when she cocks her hip and says “and I’m an artist”, I can’t help it. I want to hit her. Does anyone have a link to any of her “videos”, because I bet they’re great.

The CONCEPT of the ads is great. It’s just some of the basics that turn me off.

Costanza

@Brian Hogg

if Vista was generally perceived to be an improvement, then your usage of the word “continually” might have made sense.

Interesting how the word Vista is never mentioned in the new ads. i.e. they don’t seem to have any consumers saying things like “I need a machine with a 17″ screen and Vista!”

carl

RE: “#4 Alex V says: It’s scary how affected some people are by ads…”

No its not. Its science, and it keeps food on my table.

dd

I came across 3 Windows machines this week that were highly infected. At the end of the day, I have no issue with Windows picking up customers – because they ultimately become MY customers. Charging anywhere from $25-$100 to fix the same problems over and over guarantees that my next Mac purchase is not far along.

Ricki

Come on… I’ll bet Apples hardware sales goes down around this time each year, everybody knows that WWDC will bring a bucket load of new and upgraded hardware.

Apple brought this on themselves, they make people expect that the “new thing” will come out in just a few months and people are scared to death from fear of buying a product that is rendered obsolete 14 days later :)

So let’s review again after July and see if the number are still going down, if they are, then I’ll believe that the Microsoft PR thingy finally got something right..

Billy Offspring

Why do people that are satisfied with a Windows PC care about Macs being too expensive (for them)? I just love all those “I have a Mac Pro but my next machine is going to be a $600 Acer” comments. The proof is in the pudding folks and if Apple sees a decline in sales at a higher rate than the average in the Windows world then I will start to believe the Microsoft ads are stopping the run on customers.

Brian Hogg

@Costanza
That’s a bit of a straw-man, there. Microsoft continually improves Windows, just as Apple continually improves OS X.

Costanza

If Apple ever gets to the point where their sales are materially impacted by the competitive advertising, they hold the option to reduce prices and answer that criticism. If sales are not impacted, they can hold off on that option.

Apple can sell Macs cheaper, can Microsoft make Windows better ?

Al

Let’s face it, if all you do is “The usual suspects — email, text-editing, web browsing, and simple media-management” you don’t even need iLife. An iPod Touch might work for you.

You certainly do not need a MacBook with it’s better screen technologies, it’s faster, more modern CPUs or it’s dedicated graphics processor.

What’s more, does Apple really want a bare bones craving, cheap-ass computer purchaser as a customer? Apple’s consumer lineup is built around iLife and Apple’s consumer laptops are equipped to use iLife to it’s fullest potential. An Apple laptop is overkill if all you do is surf the net, check e-mail and load your iPod.

If all you need is a cheap netbook then buy a cheap netbook. Do yourself a favor though. Get one that uses a Linux OS and enjoy the experience.

Matt Wynne

See #3. To Christian

However, for all your love of any computer (be it a Windows based one or any other) you still have no access to a grammar or spell checker and obviously no grasp of punctuation. If you want your comments to be taken seriously, learn to spell and punctuate – please!

From ‘an old fart’ writing this on a Hackintosh, recession proof and still a Mac – albeit not an official one.

Paddy

Christian has really summed up PCs for me. He’s done almost as good a job as the fellow from the I’m a PC campaign who sells “feesh”.

Alex V

It’s scary how affected some people are by ads…

Christian

if apple want to raise up there sales they just have to lower there mac prices even though i have a macpro and 3 ipods i like windows better than macs i have a windows home computer and i have a mac even if i does not get spyware its kind of old and they need newer styles they all look the same and i think its crap!! GO WINDOWS

Brian Hogg

The second paragraph of my first comment is somewhat unrelated, I realize, although it’s slightly connected in that the response to many people wanting to get their friends to get the cool new Mac is that if they were all successful, it would actually work against them.

Brian Hogg

To be fair to what Apple’s going for, they’re all about exclusivity, and if everyone can get a Mac, how exclusive is it?

If Mac became the market leader, the current Mac Fanboys would jump ship and find the new, really cool OS that just happens to reflect them better. (Which would be totally unrelated to a massive increase in market share :))

I’m typing this on a MBP, and I’m thinking that for my next computer, which will be more supplement than replacement, will likely be a Windows 7 PC (although, to be fair, it will be for stuff that’s cross-platform and for testing of various web products). I can get a PC with a HDMI capture card for well cheaper than a Mac Pro. Even if I get it just to grab video from my camera and copy it to an external drive to edit on my MBP, it’s a savings. And like they say, we got us a recession on.

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