Thursday, July 16, 2009

Microsoft Laptop Hunter courts ire of Apple Corp.

Here's one way to know you've made an impact with your commercials: a call from your competitor's lawyers telling you to stop airing your commercials.

It's not exactly new news, but according to Ars Technica, that's what happened recently to Microsoft. Kevin Turner, Microsoft's COO, recounted at the Worldwide Partner Conference, how Apple lawyers called him telling him to nix the Laptop Hunter series of commercials the company has been running because Apple dropped its prices.

In the ads, which are unscripted, Microsoft pays for PC laptops if the consumer can can find one for under $1,000. Here's one of the ads:

It's a pretty shrewd strategy on Microsoft's part, and perfectly timed. Much like the PC vs. Mac ads, Apple has always been branded and perceived as being the hip, smart choice for computers. What Microsoft has deftly done is to shift the discourse on computers in marketing from coolness to affordability, a major concern among consumers given recent economic conditions.

That's not to say that the people who are finding the PCs, and the PCs themselves, don't have a certain coolness about them. If anything, most of the ads I've seen feature very comely and relatively young people and sleek, rather stylish PCs to appeal to a youth demographic. But the main message is, 'You can find a PC for less that gives you everything you want.' How is that not appealing?

Of course, Apple has continued its successful series of 'Get a Mac' ads, and its new MacBook Pro, $100 less than the previous MacBook, is doing so well that the company says the Laptop Hunters campaign is not having any effect on sales.

Even so, if Turner is right, then Microsoft has made some inroads and managed to shift the focus back to value. It's probably not a position the company can afford to uphold forever - do you really want to compete on price when there is always the opportunity for someone to undercut you. But it could be a launchpad for something broader or more ambitious that changes the way people look at PCs. That'd shake Apple to its core, and Justin Long wouldn't be looking so self-satisfied then.

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