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Justin Long is no longer a Mac, takes aim at Apple in new Intel ads

In the latest iteration of the mascot wars, Intel woos Apple’s one-time personification and flips the script on a classic ad campaign.

Justin Long is no longer a Mac, takes aim at Apple in new Intel ads
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For 66 commercials that ran between 2006 and 2009, Justin Long was a Mac. He was the cool, casual, laid-back personality, gently dealing with John Hodgman’s manic nerd PC. Together they were advertising’s ultimate odd couple, and made the “Get a Mac” campaign one of the most popular and recognizable commercial campaigns ever.

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Now Long returns to the computer mascot wars with a new allegiance, kicking off Intel’s newest ad campaign with a twist on a familiar line. “Hi I’m a . . . Justin.”

The series of five spots, created by agency VMLY&R, focuses on the flexibility and choice involved in PC options—from various touchscreens to tablet-laptop hybrids and more. On the one hand, it’s a fun swipe at a rival. Some added drama here is that at the same event during which Apple announced it was swapping Intel for its own M1 processors back in November, the company triggered mass nerdgasms with a stinger cameo by getting Hodgman back in his PC suit.

This may be the biggest mascot news since 2016, when Sprint convinced former Verizon “Can You Hear Me Now?” guy Paul Marcarelli to put on a yellow T-shirt.

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One of the difficulties here for Intel is that it isn’t exactly a consumer brand. Sure, we know the dah-duh-da-duh sound and everything, but it’s always been this brand-behind-the-brand. This takes away the kind of direct Coke-Pepsi, McDonald’s-Burger-King, and yes, Verizon-Sprint type face-off where these types of direct competitor callouts typically happen. As a result, it kind of dilutes the power in the message punch.

Plus, are the people who really bought into Mac over the last two decades really going to be swayed by Long’s return? Probably not as much as they were stoked to see Hodgman back in action, however briefly. This also isn’t even the first time that Long has switched tech teams. He interviewed with Huawei in 2017.

It’s a fun gimmick though. Unfortunately, with many of these swings, the attempt to mock a formerly iconic campaign usually only emphasizes its strength rather than diminishing it. Remember when Microsoft tried to take back “I’m a PC” in 2008 to make Windows cool? Yeah, no one else does either. Ultimately, using precious ad time to reference a competitor will cede some of that attention to the very competitor you’re trying to win market share from.

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Spokespeople and brand mascots still have a role to play in advertising, but the value of these switches doesn’t go far beyond the initial publicity. Commercial creativity works best when brands focus on what makes them unique—like, say, putting backpacks on bees—rather than telling us about someone else.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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