When someone mentions attack ads, the first thing that comes to most people's mind is politics, but high-tech companies have shown that they're not above slinging a mud pie or two at their competitors--especially when the target is a bitter rival.
Hard-to-read displays, cell phone games, flaky operating systems, boutique pricing, and suggestive product names provide high tech companies with the same kind of attack fodder that tax-happy candidates, demon sheep, prison spas, and Aqua Buddha provide low-road politicians.
Political attack ads have a long history, but so do high-tech attack ads. For example, who can forget Apple's "1984" ad aired during the 1984 Super Bowl? Now the stuff of cultural legend, the ad came at time when PC and IBM were synonymous--when most people thought of computers as business tools beyond the reach of individual users. With "1984," Apple tried to shatter the image of the PC as an exclusive tool of the pin-striped set.
Apple has done a masterful job of launching ads that put a relative shine on its products by tarnishing those of its competitors. Its long running "Get A Mac" campaign (ended in May 2009) is a case in point. Apple's old whipping boy--the guy in the suit--is back for more punishment. This time, though, he represents Microsoft and its Windows operating system instead of IBM. Apple's alter ego in the ads is the cool guy. In commercial after commercial, the cool guy reveals how much fun it is to use a Mac while Mr. Suit touts the PC frumpy dignity with disastrous results. One of the high watermarks of the campaign was this ad, involving the two protagonists and Gisele Bundchen, which has drawn more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.
Blitz on the MacBook
Good campaigners know that when your opponent targets you with an attack ad, you don't just turn the other cheek--you return in kind. Unfortunately, Microsoft's efforts at turning the tables on Apple weren't terribly impressive--until it launched its "Laptop Hunters" campaign.
Apple's products, along with their cachet of being "cool," have always carried a premium price. Microsoft struck at both of these vulnerabilities in "Laptop Hunters." The commercials focus on budget shoppers who want to get the most "bang" for their buck in a laptop. After comparing prices, they always conclude that they're not cool enough to buy a Mac. That doesn't matter, of course, because they can get everything they want and pay less for it with a PC.