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Microsoft's "Laptop Hunters" Campaign Eating Away at Apple

It's easy to dismiss Microsoft's $300 million rebranding effort as an attempt to paint over fundamental problems with the company's products. Apple certainly has, continuing to belittle its PC counterparts as buggy and virus-ridden with the relentless "Get a Mac" campaign. But data released by BrandIndex reveals that ad lab Crispin Porter + Bogusky has finally helped Microsoft turn the corner, and that Apple may need to rethink its derisive response to Microsoft's new "Laptop Hunter" ads.

Microsoft's latest ad blitz follows several young people searching for the perfect computer. If that person can find the computer he or she wants within a certain budget—so goes the gimmick—the marketer will pay for it. The customers weigh their options (PC versus too-cool, too-pricey Macs) and invariably settle upon the less expensive, more customizable PC. The idea is simple enough, but the campaign seems to be successfully reshaping the way customers look at Apple's products.

A BrandIndex survey of 5,000 people shows that among the 18-to-34 year-old demographic (that's right, young people) Apple's "value perception" has taken a nose-dive. BrandIndex rates a brand on a scale of -100 to 100 (zero meaning the brand is getting equal positive and negative feedback) by simply asking customers whether they feel they get a good value for their money. Apple enjoyed a value rating of 70 as recently as last winter but has plunged to 12.4 since then. Microsoft, meanwhile, has rebounded from an indifferent zero in February to 46.2 today, indicating that its latest attempt to portray Apple as overpriced is hitting home with customers.

Among the 35-to-49-year-olds demographic, things have been up and down for each company. Microsoft overtook Apple shortly after the campaign began, but Apple quickly regained its dominance. In the 50+ age group, the two brands are pretty much even, perhaps because older adults, being more affluent, make their decisions based on preference rather than cost. While money is the driving factor behind "value perception," the change in consumers' attitudes can't be blamed on the struggling economy; as Advertising Age points out, Apple enjoyed high ratings into the winter, far beyond the market meltdown in August and September.

Apple uncharacteristically responded directly to CP+B's campaign with its own fresh set of television ads last week, deftly turning the conversation back to a message it is more comfortable with: "our product is good, while yours is not." And while Apple's visually clever front page roadblock of The New York Times Website this week touted Apple's customer satisfaction cred, CP+B and Microsoft(finally) proved that even concerning a brand as hip as Apple's, satisfaction has its limits.

Related: Apple vs. Microsoft—Who is Winning the Epic Battle
Related: Can Alex Bogusky Help Microsoft Beat Apple?
Related: How to Beat the Apple Tax
Related: What Microsoft Can Learn About Retail from Apple and Best Buy
Related: Microsoft to Open Retail Stores While Apple Plans Makeovers

[via Advertising Age]

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  • eric martinson

    This really is funny. The MS campaign actually only hurts hardware vendors... they've jacked up the price on Windows 7, are pushing consumers to cheaper and cheaper hardware and are making it LOOK like you're getting a good deal. Meanwhile the hardware vendors make no money, unless they use cheaper and cheaper components. I would hope the general public would get smarter about things, but in this Walmart dominated world price means more than anything else, I guess. In the end, you get what you pay for with a quality product (there are Windows machines that are made well, but they are just as expensive or more so than Macs - just look at the new Dell Mac Air knockoff laptop). More often than not, you will be throwing that new computer out in the next couple of years because they just don't make them to last.

    Macs are made very well, not just a bunch of cheap components cobbled together from the lowest bidders. I'm just now retiring my original macbook which I bought in 2001. It's been used so much I'm surprised the keys have anything left on them. And I can tell you, I'm not missing the viruses and spyware that plague the windows world. I've 'converted' quite a few people over to Mac, and in all cases (I was their default technical contact person) once I set them up I rarely, if ever, talk to them about technical issues. Since I spend my days doing that, it wasn't my favorite thing to have to do that for all of my family too. I set my grandfather up on an eMac like 5 years ago, and I haven't talked to him ONCE since about a problem. Now we talk about better things :).

    That said, Macs aren't for everyone... there is no perfect OS/platform for everything. I prefer macs, but in the end it's my choice. Get what's best for your uses and stop hating everyone else for their choices. Just don't fall for idiotic arguments that only focus on one aspect (and that comes from BOTH sides, BTW).

  • Greg Robertson

    These ads are all about price, which can be very effective in a recession, but only with people who put today's price ahead of long-term value. ("Attention K-Mart Shoppers...") That's not what Mac owners are about, so if anything, these ads help Apple by pulling away those who would only be whining later about needing to spend to get quality. Macs are a better, more reliable product that can do more than PCs right out of the box. It's a good campaign for the audience it's targeting, but it's not hurting Apple at all.

  • Edward Kuryluk

    If I was a Microsoft shareholder I'd be pissed that MSFT spent $300m to take market share from Apple. According to CNET, Microsoft has 90% of the OS market, Apple 9%.

    IF the Microsoft campaign shifts 10% of Apple's share to MSFT, than Microsoft nets a 1% gain. According to the same article, in FY2007 the Windows division had net income of $11.5B. Thus a 1% gain is $115m. Microsoft needs to gain 2.6% for this campaign to break even. That means reducing Apples market share from 9 to 6.4%. In a year? Not likely. Ok, I am not a finance guy, so I am probably missing something, but it seems like money wasted.

    I am a marketing guy. Wouldn't $300m be better spent marketing to the existing install base of PC users encouraging OS upgrades or purchasing new machines? Microsoft probably spends a ton here anyway. Did they run out of ideas? "What do we do with this leftover $300m in our marketing budget?"

  • TeAnne Chennault

    I have to beg to differ with the majority of the comments. As a consumer, all CP+B had to do was show me the money! When the "marketer" handed the "shoppers" the fan of bills, I just about got up and bought a PC right then. And the fact that they also highlighted the one consumer group that Macs holds dominance over PCs with - those who manipulate large pools of video, like the editor that was featured - was very savvy.

    It seems to me the purpose of this ad campaign is not designed to convince people that PCs are better than Macs, it is simply orchestrated to get people to buy PCs.

  • Chris Johnston

    I know that the majority of US law schools are primarily PC or Mac shops and they often will give you guidance on which to purchase. I also don't see any disclosure on whether these are real people or paid actors. If it comes out that they are paid actors MS is in a heap of trouble with the FTC. They are making noise about regulating bloggers who get paid to review products and Microsoft is making commercials buying people PC's for under a thousand. By the way you can't get a new Mac for sub $1000 after tax so their only choice is a PC.

  • Mike Boudreau

    Before you write a story or read Microsoft's talking points, realize that Microsoft laptops are cheaper...much cheaper. Also the ad touts the amount of RAM in the Microsoft machine in comparison to the Apple laptops. Well I believe that Apple is much more effecient with its usage of RAM while Microsoft machines are pigs...yes a Microsoft machine needs more RAM. So there is a value point to be made, but you ask High School kids which they would rather have if they could choose for free, Apple would win hands down. Does Apple need to be conscious of their pricing in this current economy...yes! They don't want to lose younger consumer that could have been converted into long term consumers.

  • Beryl Wing

    After years of yearning to use a cool Mac, I got the opportunity a few years ago. I quickly discovered that the Mac ran slower (why had I never heeded cries about the "beachball from hell" from adjacent offices?)than the pc almost disabling word and excel documents created first on a pc. And there were functions I could do on a pc but not on a mac. After consulting with seasoned mac users they would say "well, you just can't do that." When I had been doing it for years on a pc. This is the dirty little (big) secret Microsoft should explore/exploit.

    To save the egos of my rabid/avid mac friends (including my son), I simply say I'm not cool enough for a mac. Deep down I know I'm secure enough to sacrifice "cool" for effectiveness, always my bottom line.

    Beryl Wing

  • Bobbi Jo Woods

    I am with Michael on this one, the commercials have all so far been about price. Granted, Windows features and MS stuff are not mentioned as part of the value of what you are getting, but people who need computers just plain need a computer and right now with all thoughts on the economy, price is what is driving folks.

  • Charles Lambert

    In Michigan right now we are looking for the short term deal. Not the pretty expensive face of a Mac. We have 30% unemployment in our town. I am not sure how many laptops are being sold here anyway. In the local stores there are no Mac's even available.

  • Merritt Tilley III

    I don't believe these ad's are damaging to Apple. Apple is so superior to non-Apple's, it isn't even funny! With the new Apple ad's that mention "PC Technical Support" versus "Apple Genius", there really is no comparison. Apple wins hands down! Sure, Apple's cost more but you get what you pay for.

  • . Kristof

    I find it hard to believe that the campaign is chipping away at Apple even in the slightest. The whole PC campaign is wrapped around a price point. And as Kit Eaton mentioned, not a single user benefit is pitched. I feel the campaign comes off as nothing more than an expensive promo for third party hardware. Price comparison might work in the short term, but in the long run, Microsoft is simply cutting their legs off.

  • Kit Eaton

    I tend to agree with Remig on this one. The most amusing thing about the MS ads is that in them, MS itself is largely irrelevant! Not one feature of Windows as an advantage is mentioned. Which, if one is cynical, suggests that there's nothing to shout about?

  • Remig Raffanti

    I have to admit I never thought of this campaign as a CP+B effort. Its not real clever or creative - something that you would expect from CP+B. However, this is a great example of a very creative and innovative agency going back to the basics and succeeding. Although, I must say Apple does a far superior job at entertaining its audience while driving home the point.