Are you a Mac, or are you a PC?

The year 2006 will be remembered as transformative. Google bought the nearly year-old YouTube. Facebook opened to the general public, and Twitter launched. In May, Apple debuted the "Get a Mac" advertising campaign, which is one of the most memorable and quite possibly the most definitive for high-tech marketing -- at least in this century. "Get a Mac" is no more. Apple now redirects to Why You'll Love the Mac," which is merely informational. Four years of commercials are gone, too, although some will remain on YouTube until Apple demands they be pulled. That's already started.

As I've asserted before, most of the popular social media services taken for granted today started during or after 2006. Even the iPhone came later. Something else happened in 2006, which gave Apple unexpected tailwind for Mac sales: Microsoft bungled Windows Vista's launch. The company missed the holiday sales period, launching Vista for businesses at the end of November, but not for consumers until late January 2007. Apple's "Get a Mac" marketing would shift from generally knocking Windows PCs to direct attacks on Windows Vista.

For Apple, 2006 marked the beginning of a slow sales surge, bolstered by "Get a Mac" marketing and unencumbered by Windows; more Windows users stuck with XP than upgraded to Vista, with many of them switching to Macs -- or at least adding Apple computers alongside Windows PCs. In the quarter that "Get a Mac" debuted, Apple shipped 1.3 million Macs, with net revenue of $1.87 billion. Unit shipments rose 12 percent year over year and revenue by 19 percent. During its most recent quarter, Apple shipped 2.94 million Macs, up 33 percent year over year, generating $3.76 billion revenue for a 27 percent year-over-year increase.

I was working as a senior analyst for JupiterResearch when Apple launched the "Get a Mac" campaign. I blogged on May 2, 2006:

The appeal is the metaphor: People, one person a Mac and another a PC (presumably running Windows). Through their exchange, the two characters communicate the important presumed PC and Mac differences (crashes, viruses) and similarities (networking, Microsoft Office) in straightforward fashion. There is no complicated computer jargon, and the ads use the experiential to make concepts clear and meaningful. The approach is brilliant...

No doubt, big husky Microsoft must tire of listening to the barking of that scrappy dog Apple. After all, there's a huge market share gulf between Windows PCs and Macs. And Microsoft does develop one very important Mac product, Office. But there's some bite to that bark, too. In looking over JupiterResearch household surveys, Mac OS does appear to be eking upward. Caveat -- and it's a big one: Any possible gains are still fairly small and well within margin of error. But some trends are other evidence, such as the number of multi-computer households with Mac OS compared to Windows XP. I presume that Macs are snatching up second or third computer purchases that might otherwise have gone to Windows. High proportion of Mac OS households with notebooks compared to Windows counterparts is another fascinating snippet.

Apple has set up the "Get a Mac" Website with information for would-be switchers and the six TV commercials. Microsoft could learn a whole lot about Apple's marketing approach, particularly for the eventual release of Windows Vista. Other high-tech vendors should take notes, too. Communicating products' value is not easy -- otherwise why would high-tech companies spend millions hiring advertising agencies? Apple has taken one of the most recognizable metaphors--interaction between two people--and communicated something very big in a small way. The approach is compelling, to say the least.

The approach was so compelling that Microsoft responded with the "I'm a PC" campaign in September 2008. The first commercial began with Microsoft employee Sean Siler dressed like actor John Hodgman, who portrayed the geeky PC in Apple's "Get a Mac" ads. "Hello, I'm a PC, and I've been made into a stereotype," Siler says. My initial reaction from Sept. 19, 2008:

Overall, the commercials are endearing. I like them more than I expected. But their shortcoming is the same as the Bill [Gates] and Jerry [Seinfeld] ads: The commercials don't say much about Windows. In that sense, Apple set the agenda by using PC to identify Windows.

The 'I'm a PC' commercials are sad Microsoft acknowledgment about how smaller rival Apple outmarketed the giant. But I still expect the 'I'm a PC' concept to embolden Apple to make even more aggressive 'Get a Mac' commercials and to rally the Mac minority to sound like a roaring majority, on blogs, in news stories, and among online and offline social circles. I see mixed benefit, therefore. Any debate is even more marketing for Microsoft, and free at that. So how bad can that be?

It could be plenty bad. Apple ramped up the Windows assaults, including repeated jabs at Windows 7. The ongoing attacks sucked much of the charm and creativity out of the "Get a Mac" ads and turned them into caricatures of their former greatness. The motif remains a great one, but "Get a Mac" became "get the fast-forward on the DVR button." Apple should have pulled the campaign sooner. The question to ask now: With what will Apple replace "Get a Mac?" Surely the iconic marketing is far from over.

It's Friday. Let's have some fun. I must ask: Are you a Mac? Or are you a PC? Please answer in comments.

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