Negative Tech Ads: A Short History in Video

In 2009, tech advertising took a sharp turn toward the negative. After years of being sucker-punched by Apple's anti-Windows ads, Microsoft finally fought back with a series of "Laptop Hunter" ads in which real people rejected Macs as overpriced and short on substance.

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, promoted its Droid handset in part by attacking Apple's iPhone as limited and...well, kind of a girlyphone. It also slammed AT&T's 3G coverage in a series of ads that prompted AT&T to respond both on TV and in court.

It was enough to leave observers pining for the calm, reasoned discourse of political campaign ads. But truth to tell, tech companies have been sniping at the competition in advertising for as long as they've advertised their wares. And YouTube is bursting at the seams with evidence.

Apple's 25-Year War on Microsoft

Whatever you think of the "Laptop Hunter" ads, you can see why Microsoft might lash out at Apple. By the time the ads aired last year, the maker of Windows had spent a quarter century stifling its emotions while Apple promoted Macs in large part by slamming Microsoft.

It all goes back to the very first Macintosh TV ad--the legendary "1984." True, the commercial didn't mention Microsoft by name. But it did compare people who used IBM PCs--powered by Bill Gates and Paul Allen's MS-DOS--to a zombie army under the control of an evil overlord. That can't be considered a compliment.

By the 1990s, Apple's Microsoft-bashing had gotten less futuristic and more explicit.

Strangely enough, the negative vibes aimed at Redmond were interspersed with occasional ads bragging that Macs could run Windows, too--yes, the same OS that the other Apple ads said was nothing but a headache waiting to happen.

In 2002, Apple launched the "Switch" campaign, featuring typical computer users bitching about PCs and praising Macs while John Murphy's song "Spit" thumped in the background. The one everyone remembers stars high school student Ellen Feiss, so let's watch this one with Liza Richardson--a "real person" who eventually worked behind the scenes on Apple ads--instead.

This is a "Switch" commercial made for airing in Japan--and you don't need to speak a word of Japanese to get the gist, and to identify the moment at which she stops talking about PCs and begins discussing Macs.

Like "Switch," Apple's current, long-running "Get a Mac" campaign is inherently anti-Microsoft--every single installment features John Hodgman as the doofusy PC. The golden age of the series was the Vista era--here's an ad focusing on that OS's notoriously maddening User Account Control prompts.

Yet as it had done with Windows 95 a decade earlier, Apple simultaneously ran ads trashing Vista and ones saying that Macs made fabulous Vista machines. This one happens to involve a phone call to a publication you may have heard about.

Here's another commercial from Japan--this one subtitled for your convenience--that's a remake of an American ad. (Who knew that Eurobeat was the Adult Contemporary of Japanese musical genres?)

From time to time, Apple would take a breather from beating up on Microsoft to beat up on Intel. Here's a late-1990s ad showing the Pentium II as being literally sluggish, and another dedicated to steamrolling a conveniently arrayed lineup of Intel-based laptops (the first one to go looks to be a ThinkPad).

In 2005, Apple announced that it was switching its entire Mac line to Intel processors, ensuring that the chipmaker would henceforth be spared Apple's marketing wrath. One suspects, however, that as long as there are Macs and Windows PCs, Apple will continue to taunt Microsoft.

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