In December 2019 (when the world was an old-normal place), I had wondered, on the back of Pepsi signing long-time Thums Up face Salman Khan as their brand ambassador, if Pepsi would do something brave and allude to ‘thunder’ or something along those lines and take a dig at their rival cola brand. When the campaign finally launched, it was apparent that Pepsi won’t do anything like that.
In that post, I had listed a couple of instances where Indian brands had used recognizable characters (along with the models who played those characters, at times) and riffed on an earlier campaign. Later, in January 2020, Paytm launched an ad featuring the Trivago Man, now an employee of Paytm!
As far as global instances go, Ryan Reynolds’ agency Maximum Effort picking up the Peloton girl for Aviation Gin, while referencing her condition from the Peloton ad was a marketing masterstroke given how recent and fresh the Peloton ad and the ensuing outrage was at that time.
Now, there is a new campaign that does this on a much larger scale.
Back in 2006, Apple, through their agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab, launched the ‘Get a Mac’ campaign. It featured actor Justin Long (of Jeepers Creepers/Live Free or Die Hard fame) as a Mac user and author John Hodgman as a PC user.
The series ran till 2009 and it had really long legs – as many as 3 region-centric versions (US, UK, Japan) and 70+ ad films for TV and digital. The series spawned a lot of pop culture references including famous equivalents of ‘I’m DC’ and ‘I’m Marvel’.
Microsoft retaliated in 2008 with the ‘I’m a PC’ campaign, via their agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CPB). It used the same template as ‘Get a Mac’, but while Apple’s spots showed personifications of both PC and Mac (and implying that Mac users were cooler), Microsoft’s campaign focused only on PC and PC users, assuming that people know which template they are using.
Like the Aviation Gin ad, Microsoft’s campaign, at that time, made sense, because it was timed in a period when the memory of the rival campaign was very high. In a way, Microsoft was riffing on Apple’s media spends, just like how Ryan Reynolds used Peloton’s media spend (and of course, the topical/trending attention of the outrage).
There were also unintentional bloopers like the news of Microsoft’s ads being created on a Mac 🙂
All this is history now. The Apple campaign ran from 2006 to 2009, while Microsoft’s response ran primarily in 2008-09. We are in 2021 now, understandably.
And here is Intel using the media spends and potential memory of the ‘Get a Mac’ campaign by roping in Justin Long to say ‘I’m a PC’, a decade later! Unlike the Microsoft campaign/response, Intel’s series shows Macs too and makes them seem boring when compared with PCs.
The late 2000s seem like another era now – they are another era in terms of technological evolution. So why would Intel use Justin Long to parrot their products now, instead of Mac?
The most obvious reason is his face is associated with Macs. So, if the face most associated with Mac says that he is now a PC user, that could potentially make more people be interested, and eventually, consider a PC. A direct reason for this frontal attack on Apple is also because the company is completely moving off Intel’s chips, in favor of their own chips, which are, as per reviews, considerably better in terms of performance and battery usage. This update literally throws Intel out of circulation when it comes to Apple/Macs. So, it makes sense that Intel is trying to make itself seem important in an ecosystem that still values it – Windows PCs.
Would this campaign seem interesting if it had someone other than Justin Long? Hardly – that would have simply been a new campaign where a model/person is comparing Macs and PCs. But when Justin Long does the comparison, Intel hopes that his background and association as Mac’s (former) face would make their campaign more interesting/buzz-worthy.
The only spanner in that logic is how old the ‘Get a Mac’ campaign is. The people who may be aware of that campaign maybe a decade older now. If they had formerly chosen a Mac owing to that campaign, they need mighty compelling reasons to make a PC switch now – are the goodies showcased by Intel good enough?
A related problem is that while the Apple and Microsoft campaigns were selling single-company products, Intel is selling multiple brands (original equipment manufacturers) including Asus, MSI, Lenovo, and so on. Each brand and PC brings its own idiosyncrasies much like Apple iPhones vs. multiple Android phones. If your choice is Android, you then need to choose between assorted brands, and that complicates your decision-making process.
Still, Intel and their agency VMLY&R, do pitch in valiantly – the films showcase very logical reasons for considering a PC instead of a Mac. The minor hindrance to that is that Apple’s communication is seldom logical – it’s mostly emotional. Most of the ‘Get a Mac’ films were talking about practical reasons why you may consider a Mac but they were fully coated in emotional framing. The initial films by Intel and VMLY&R indicate that this is less emotional and more practical – the ability to connect 3 monitors, touch-screen feature not available in Mac laptops, the multiple choices for PCs, gaming possibility in PCs, and laptops turning into tablets too in PCs.
It’s a brave pitch, no doubt. But it’s the left brain taking on the right brain, unlike Apple’s original campaign that had one goal – position Macs as ‘cool’ and PCs as ‘uncool’, where the definition of ‘cool’ was defined and honed by Apple. With Intel’s campaign, they seem to be sending mixed signals – with the gaming possibility, PCs are framed as ‘cool’, but with the ability to connect 3 monitors or multiple choice of brands, the message is veering into functional benefits.
This is the zone where Apple gets it right usually. For context, take a look at yesterday’s post again – every other true wireless earbuds were talking about all the features they have to offer while Apple shows happy people walking and dancing in the streets 🙂