Apr 10

No campaign lives forever

There’s a sad story circulating about Apple’s Mac vs. PC campaign. In an interview, Justin I’m-a-Mac Long says he “thinks they might be done.”

Who knows how true that is. But just in case, let’s pause for a moment of appreciation. Apple has had some amazing single advertising moments, but as a complete campaign, this is the granddaddy of them all. It started in 2006 and Apple/Chiat has been churning them out ever since. The list of Mac vs. PC spots on Wikipedia was so long, I didn’t want to hurt myself counting.

Obviously it wasn’t about quantity. This campaign succeeded on multiple levels. In the past, Apple had often searched for the right way to slam Windows (anyone remember “the hard way vs. the easy way”?), but traction was tough to come by.

Mac and PC had exactly the right personalities. Although the deeply anti-Mac crowd sees Apple arrogance in every message, the characters were charmingly human. This campaign has allowed Apple to pummel their competition brutally, but do it with the sweetest smile.

It has also been supremely effective. It made the differences between Mac and PC part of our public conversation. That was the modest goal at the start, and it succeeded beyond Apple’s dreams.

Few campaigns can last four years without going terribly wrong, becoming completely irrelevant or just losing the public’s interest. Mac vs. PC remained fresh. When a new commercial comes out, it still gets talked about.

Readers of this blog know that I have criticized the iPhone campaign for its three-year run. Yet I’m sitting here lavishing love on a campaign that’s run even longer. What’s with that? Easy to explain. First, I’m a bad person. Second, this has to do with a campaign’s depth, not its longevity.

Mac vs. PC has continuously evolved in interesting ways — every commercial makes a different point. There’s tension. Costumes change, we see new props, guest characters, etc. Even with your TV muted, you can tell you’re seeing a new spot. The campaign also thrives in the digital world. The Mac vs. PC web banners are far more entertaining than the pages they live on, always finding ways to surprise us.

Contrast that with the iPhone commercials, which basically use the same template every time out. They’re pleasant, informative, very Apple — and they deserve to die.

That’s because “good enough” has never, ever been good enough for Apple. The company has no problem killing off a successful product to replace it with something better. That’s been its attitude about advertising as well.

The iPhone campaign totally works. Sales are through the roof. But there is a huge difference between “it works” and “holy cow.” Apple has never believed in coasting with its ads, it has always evolved in unexpected ways. It’s part of their DNA.

iPhone ads just don’t distinguish themselves anymore. It’s become difficult to tell one from the next. Considering the huge role iPhone has in Apple’s future plans, and the narrowing gap between iPhone and its competitors, it’s actually surprising that iPhone advertising remains so formulaic.

So a tip of the hat to Mac vs. PC and its creators at Chiat/Day. If the campaign really is soon to end, I hope they have one hell of a send-off party. Maybe this will give them added incentive to start casting for the “I’m an iPhone, I’m a Droid” campaign.

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  • But the Time Traveler ad said we’ll have the ads at least until the year 2150.

  • Dr. Horvath

    Well, to look on the bright side of this “sad story”,
    at least Justin can now remove his little hands from his pockets.