The 'I'm a Mac' guy is back and shilling for…Intel?

It’s true. B-list American actor Justin Long is currently being featured in a series of TV spots pitching Intel-based PCs over those from Apple. And just as he did back in the noughties, Long is playing his "oh, shucks, I guess I can’t do that" schtick to perfection, only this time he’s stymied by the Mac’s lack of functionality (like convertible hinges or a touchscreen).

The spots are mildly amusing. However, they ultimately miss the point about what makes Apple products desirable -- namely, the perception of luxury. Apple products long ago transitioned to become "aspirational" goods. A person toting a MacBook Pro or Air is now seen as a making more of a fashion statement than an actual technology choice. Whether or not these people use their devices to get any work done is almost irrelevant. They want to be seen with that sleek, silver Apple device tucked under their arm or poking out of their overpriced handbag.

Beautiful people doing amazing things with their iPhones and Macs. That’s the message Apple has been peddling, and to great effect: Digital devices from the Cupertino powerhouse are seen as a kind of silicon "bling" that’s worn by celebrities and entertainment power players -- the people who are admired and envied by the unwashed masses. Every time you see Beyoncé flash her iPhone, the message is reinforced: "Buy our products and you, too, can be special!"

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Of course, Apple relishes all the free product placement. Watch mainstream network TV and you can’t help but notice the absurdity of it all, especially if you work in the tech industry. Back in the day, shows like "24" gave those of us in the know a giggle when they placed iMacs on the desks of the various counterterrorism unit agents -- as if a large, security-focused government agency would be running anything but UNIX/Linux!

Note: Given Hollywood’s obsession with Apple products, this feels like it falls under the rubric of "write what you like and know" as opposed to what’s technically accurate. To which I can only respond: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do!"

To be honest, I was never a fan of the original "I’m a Mac, I’m a PC" TV commercials. I felt they glossed over the many limitations of the Apple ecosystem (overpriced hardware, limited software compatibility, poor upgradeability). But they are also relics from a time before Apple’s transition to "aspirational" status. Back then, the company was still arguing the technical and usability merits of its products. It wasn’t an effective strategy in the noughties, and it isn’t one now for Intel.

By focusing on the myriad shapes and sizes and form factors of the modern PC ecosystem, Intel is making the mistake of thinking this is a fight over facts and features (or choice). The battle isn’t over who has a touchscreen or whether you need one device or three to get your work done (though that particular bit of physical comedy was quite humorous). There is no such battle. Rather, there is a luxury technology product line favored by the stars and aspired to by their tech unsavvy fans vs. a ratty collection of generic PCs with questionable form factors (embedded screens in the keyboard base are just stupid) and middling build quality.

Microsoft figured this out long ago and answered Apple with the popular Surface lineup of premium-quality tablets and laptops. Dell, HP, and others have followed suit with their own premium lines, though with mixed results. In fact, everyone in the industry seems to have gotten the memo re: competing with Apple -- everyone except Intel. They’re still stuck in the past, fighting yesterday’s battles, while using the same, familiar actor. These TV spots aren’t going to sway anyone because they completely miss the point about why people buy Apple products (and Justin Long is no Beyoncé).

Bottom Line: If I was in charge of marketing for Intel, I’d be updating my resumé right about now.

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