In May of 2006, Apple released the first ad in its “Get a Mac” campaign.
Over the next three years, it would put out 66 installments of “Get a Mac,” featuring Justin Long as a hipster Mac and John Hodgman as a stodgy Windows-based PC. It propelled Apple’s Mac sales, and launched the careers of Hodgman and Long.
They were clever, and at times unfair, attacks on Microsoft and its users. They worked for Apple.
Since retiring the ad series, Apple hasn’t come up with anything nearly as clever.
Instead, ads focus on Apple’s products. This is a decent strategy since it makes great products like the iPhone and iPad.
The iPad in particular was a totally new product so Apple had to explain it to people in a simple way. Until Apple explained why we needed iPads, we didn’t know why we needed iPads. You can see Microsoft not explaining why anyone needs a Surface and you can see how that’s working out.
However, while Apple does product-focused advertising, its biggest hardware rival — Samsung — has stolen another page from Apple’s playbook creating clever ads featuring people teasing Apple.
In November 2011, Samsung started running ads mocking Apple’s users. This was a high risk manoeuvre. Lots of companies have tried to make fun of Apple users. None had succeeded.
But Samsung’s ads were funny and well done. They also benefitted from good timing. Apple was moving from righteous underdog to the world’s most valuable company. It’s hard to be hip and cool when you’re the biggest company in the world.
“Samsung has been scoring points with its people-based ads — most of which play off some growing negative perceptions about Apple,” wrote Ken Segall, a former ad man who developed Apple’s “Think Different” campaign with Steve Jobs.
Where Apple’s lines to buy iPhones were once seen as the sign of a company with a loyal following, Samsung turned it into the sign that you’re a sucker lining up for years-old features.
There’s truth to the idea that Apple doesn’t roll out the newest features on its phones. Despite its reputation for innovation, it can be a slow adopter. This is because it doesn’t want to add features for the sake of adding features, it wants to only add features that work and improve the product from its perspective.
Regardless of Apple’s reasoning for doing what it does, Samsung is successfully landing blows on Apple. As Segall says, “While you can still argue that Macs and i-devices have a ton of appeal, you can’t argue that Apple is still untouchable when it comes to advertising. The fact is, it is being touched — often and effectively — by none other than Samsung.”
Samsung has reinforced the clever ads with a monster marketing budget hammering away its message about its phones.
The irony here is that Samsung is doing to Apple what it did to Microsoft from 2006 to 2009. It’s creating a humorous caricature of the type of person that uses Apple products, then bashing it over our heads on TV.
Apple is still selling a lot of iPhones, so it’s not like the ads are killing the company. But, Microsoft still sold a lot of Windows-based computers when Apple did its “Get a Mac” campaign.
The damage to Apple isn’t easily quantified but there’s no denying that Samsung’s ads are working, and Apple’s brand is nowhere near as strong as it was two years ago.
Part of it is self-inflicted with stuff like Apple Maps. But when Apple makes a mistake like that, Samsung is waiting with the biggest, most expensive megaphone in the world, just waiting to draw attention to it. Just like Apple once did to Microsoft.
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