Apple’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.)
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:
- Older consumers have more money to spend even in the middle of a recession, and/or
- 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.