Apple Ads Hold Off Microsoft's Promos

Apple's anti-Vista response last week to its rival's "I'm a PC" marketing campaign blunted the impact of Microsoft Corp.'s efforts, an Internet video metrics firm said.

Although the trio of television advertisements that Apple used to bash Microsoft's US$300 million Windows marketing program were viewed fewer times in their first week than the "I'm a PC" ads were in their first week, Apple's ads inspired twice as many video placements on the Web, said Matt Cutler, vice president of marketing and analytics at Visible Measures Corp.

Cutler's company tracks some 160 video sharing sites, scanning each one daily to spot new videos and tally views for those posted earlier. One of its primary jobs for customers is to monitor the "viral" spread of advertising.

"It's not just about the brands today," Cutler said. "Fans copy ads, they might mash them up, they might do a spoof. We throw a lasso around all these videos to determine the whole reach of a campaign."

Last week, Apple hit back at Microsoft's new "I'm a PC" campaign -- which was a follow-up to controversial spots featuring comedian Jerry Seinfeld and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates -- with three spots that poked fun at its rival's sprucing of Windows. Although ads in Apple's long-running "Get a Mac" campaign typically mock Vista for its perceived problems, the newest ads took aim at the large amount of money Microsoft has devoted to revamping Windows' reputation.

In the third Apple ad, dubbed "Bake Sale," the "PC" character holds a bake sale to raise money as he bemoans the funds given to advertising. "Since my problems don't seem to be a priority for them, I'm taking matters into my own hands ... a bake sale," says humorist John Hodgman, who plays the PC part.

According to Cutler, Apple's ads garnered only 70% of the views tallied by Microsoft's campaign. Apple's ads were viewed approximately 1.2 million times in the first week after they were posted to the Internet; Microsoft's "I'm a PC" ads, meanwhile, were viewed about 1.7 million times.

"There was lots of anticipation and discussion about Microsoft's ads," Cutler noted, especially after the unusual spots that featured Seinfeld and Gates. "It was new and different."

But Cutler considered Apple's ad views, even at just 70% of Microsoft's, as a win for the Cupertino, Calif. computer maker. "They were part of an ongoing series, so in that context 70% was a pretty darn good number," he said.

Even more impressive was the broader viral spread of Apple's ads: They generated twice as many "placements" -- distinct videos with their own URL -- on the Internet as did Microsoft's campaign. "From our perspective, they seem to be creating more buzz than the average Apple ad," Cutler said. "If you look at the comments [on the Web], feelings were very mixed about the Apple ads, with people wondering if they were negative attack ads or had gone too far."

That kind of discussion, or the sheer potential for argument, is crucial if ads are to spread virally, Cutler added. "There's no guarantee of viral activity, but when an audience gets involved it can significantly increase the reach of a campaign," Cutler said. "From an ROI perspective, this is very attractive."

In fact, Microsoft's Seinfeld-Gates ads were viral monsters after they debuted. "They crushed the 'I'm a PC' campaign numbers," said Cutler, outperforming the follow-ups by "several hundred percent."

No surprise, really. "Those ads had really challenged people's perceptions," Cutler said, talking about the discussions that raged about the ads' effectiveness or whether they even had a point. "They were successful because they didn't answer very many questions. Virally, that's a good thing."

Although Visible Measures doesn't rate ad creative content, Cutler couldn't resist stepping away from the strict metrics for a moment. "We would have loved to see more things in that [Seinfeld-Gates] series," he said. "It would have been a much more difficult campaign for Apple to counter.

"If Microsoft had stuck with that, Apple might have responded with an ad that teamed Steve Jobs with Newman," he said, describing a campaign that used banter between Apple's CEO and the "Seinfeld" television comedy character played by Wayne Knight.

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