Microsoft laughs off Apple legal request to kill TV ads

Apple is a company known for good design -- meaning also that appearances matter beyond just the products. Apple's legal department may have done something that appears simply laughable. Even if untrue, it's a helluva good story -- and a Microsoft executive tells it. Well.

Apple has a reputation for issuing legal take-down notices. The practice is a byproduct of the company's penchant for secrecy. Many Websites posting leaked Apple product pics have felt the burning ire of Apple lawyers. Today, at Microsoft's annual partner conference, COO Kevin Turner described receiving what could be characterized as the ultimate take-down notice.

"Two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, hey -- this is a true story -- saying, 'Hey, you need to stop running those ads, we lowered our prices.' They took like $100 off or something. It was the greatest single phone call in the history that I've ever taken in business."

"I did cartwheels down the hallway. At first I said, 'Is this a joke? Who are you?' Not understanding what an opportunity. And so we're just going to keep running them and running them and running them."

In June, Apple introduced 13-inch MacBook Pros for $100 less than the MacBooks they replaced and cut $300 off 15-inch and 17-inch laptops. Assuming the story is factual as told, Apple legal actually has a point about the price comparisons in most "Laptop Hunters" commercials. That said, the prices were correct when Microsoft first aired the ads.

Is there a little tit for tat going on here? Of course. I had noticed that in recent weeks Microsoft started airing older Laptop Hunters commercials more frequently, after a hiatus. I didn't make the connection until today that these same commercials also call out the higher Mac notebook prices.

Is that unfair? In marketing there is no love between competitors. Just war. Microsoft took the marketing two-by-four to Apple's head. Whack. Whack. That's what effective marketing is for.

It's no wonder Kevin Turner cartwheeled around the office. For nearly three years prior to Laptop Hunters, Apple dominated PC purchasing messaging with "Get a Mac" commercials, which brilliantly use two people -- Mac and PC -- to simply communicate complex ideas about computer buying. KT told Microsoft partners about reactions a year ago:

"Gosh, when I went home for the holidays, brothers, sisters, cousins -- hey, hope you don't have anything to do with marketing over there at Microsoft. What are you guys going to do about those Apple ads?"

Apple and Microsoft are both readying new operating systems for autumn release. I expect Microsoft to all but literally cover the planet in advertising. According to KT:

"When we put Windows 7 in there, which we've got coming out in October, what an incredible opportunity for us to fight back. And it feels really good to be on the offensive here. And we know we've got plenty of work to do. We don't have it all figured out."

Laptop Hunters commercials have proved to be a surprisingly effective response to Apple marketing. "I'm a PC" ads were OK and "The Rookies" spots were much better. The Laptop Hunters series is the big home run. The commercials have improved perceptions about Microsoft and Windows PCs. The company stated so during its earnings call three months ago. By the way, the Bing commercials are even better -- some of best tech ever run on TV.

I suspect Apple's sensitivity is more than about Laptop Hunters. Microsoft has played up value by highlighting what it calls the "Apple Tax" -- the price premium paid for Macs compared to Windows PCs. In fairness to Apple, that premium is in the market under $999, which is the entry price to join the iMac, MacBook Pro or Mac Pro clubs.

Microsoft plans to expand the "Tax" concept. Apple is one target. VMware is another. Kevin Turner told Microsoft partners: "Just like we did with Apple...we're going to get this virtualization tax, the VMware tax out there and start driving people crazy with the value proposition."

Given the econolypse, Microsoft has picked a good time to reemphasize value in its marketing.

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