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Friday, Oct. 24, 2008

Microsoft’s Ad Vs. Apple’s Three Move Set

By Jeff Sexton
October 24th, 2008

First, if you haven’t seen it yet, watch Microsoft’s response to Apple’s infamous “I’m a Mac” campaign.

YouTube Preview Image

Here’s the question: what do you want to bet that Apple has been just waiting – even itching – for Microsoft to release that kind of response to their “I’m a Mac” campaign?

Why do I ask that?  Because I’d bet anything that Mac’s marketing was smart enough to engage in what Mike Smock has termed The Three Move Set.  You see, when you try to take market share from a competitor, it’s usually a fair bet that they’ll react with some kind of countermeasure.  And that means smart marketers think at least far enough in advance to consider their response to the competition’s countermeasures.  Ideally, one wants to make sure this response is decisive, or at least hurts the competition as much as the initial challenge.  Here’s how Mike breaks it down:

Move 1: Challenger attacks Leader

Move 2: Leader reacts to Challenger.

Move 3: Challenger reacts to Leader.

And here’s how to view the current Mac/PC ad campaigns in light of that:

  • Move 1: Mac challenges PC by personifying Macs as hip, cool, and reliably workable and PCs as nerdy, problematic (especially with the release of Vista), and behind the curve in user experience.
  • Move 2: Microsoft responds by creating an ad that actively evokes Apple’s framing of the issue and that essentially says, hey, PCs are cool, too.

Do you see?  Most strategists could have – and should have – seen this one coming.  Apple goads you into advertising to respond to their ads and then they slam you for being more concerned with creating ad campaigns than fixing your software, as in the case with the ad I posted yesterday or Apple’s PC Bake Sale ad:

YouTube Preview Image

So what should have (or could have) Microsoft done?

Well, leaving aside the obvious bit about getting Vista right before releasing it to the public, they probably should have:

  1. Responded to Mac in a matter of weeks, or at least months, rather than years.  This one is sort of a no-brainer.
  2. Come up with a response that re-framed the issue rather than responding to Mac’s frame.  Saying, “I’m not a dweeb” is a bit like saying “I’m not a crook” – it just forces people to think of you within the frame of dweeb/not dweeb (or Crook/Not Crook).  This is actually a well known phenomenon that is actively used by modern politicians.  Just as asking people not to think of white bears is actually counterproductive, so too is Microsoft’s denial of Mac’s characterization of PCs.
  3. Possibly take a page out of Trout and Ries’ playbook and attack the weakness inherent in Mac’s strength.  In this case, it’s Apple’s closed system and (lower but still there) price premium.  William Thomas alluded to the limitations of a closed system in a comment to my previous post when he compared Linux to catching and gutting your own fish and Apple to ordering fish at the restaurant.  And I’m guessing here, but it’s also what Microsoft might be getting at with the “Life without walls” slogan.  Of course, Microsoft will have to be as creative and sharp witted in pressing this point as Mac has been with their campaigns, and, well, their ad above hardly qualifies.  The slogan is nothing but an afterthought.

So what do you think Microsoft should do?

Add Your Comments

Comments (40)

  1. [...] First, if you haven’t seen it yet, watch Microsoft’s response to Apple’s infamous “I’m a Mac” campaign. Click here to view the embedded video. [...]

  2. PCs and Mac are in fact commodities; hardware used with (mostly) a browser. Nothing much else. The rest is marketing; hype and coolness with a higher or lower price tag.

    What should have MSFT done?

    1-Focus more on user experience and stop cramming more and more feature very few people are using.

    2- If they wanted to target Apple specifically they could have focus their advertising on the “Coolness Tax”.

    3- Simply keep riding the wave they’re on until everything computing activities finish to move online. Same thing will happen with Apple’s computers.

    Interestingly enough, one of the reason Apple branched out of computers is because (I hope) they know everything is moving online.

    5 years ago those ads wouldn’t have been possible as the Apple’s hipness comes their consumers’ iProducts, not their computers.

    So what changed since? New (and very good) consumer products from Apple and they leverage this trend to eat away PCs’ market share.

  3. Maybe a bit off topic but what I like about Apple is they created characters, while Microsoft resorted to celebrity endorsements. I’m sorry, but Jerry Seinfeld or Eva Longoria’s choice of operating system does not make me want to give up my iMac or MacBook.

    Despite the b-ball player’s endorsements, that ad by Microsoft is no slam dunk!

  4. I like the idea of reframing MSFT. And if Apple was beating me up with hip and cool vs. dorky, at least own the dorky – don’t do a second rate hip and cool.

    What I mean is how about a series of ads that focus on just what Apple is already saying Windows is all about…. boring back office stuff. Perhaps the cool mac guys take over accounting and everyone is looking slick and hip but then paychecks don’t go out on time becuase they are all busy ichatting with their hot girl/boy friends. Or a building falls down becuase the hip Apple guys tried to do structural calculations with Numbers.

    Just frame apple as great for the hipsters and windows as the place to go for serious software. I think MSFT could do that convincingly and then macs ads would actually help reinforce the message. Apple would have to go back to the drawing board if they didn’t want to help MSFT because they no longer own the frame.

  5. If Microsoft’s slogan is “Life without walls” then why do we need Windows?

    It doesn’t make sense to me.

    Unleash the leopards, run free!

  6. If Microsoft’s slogan is “Life without walls” then why do we need Windows?

    It doesn’t make sense to me.

    Unleash the leopards, run free!

  7. I think that Microsoft should rewrite their OS from scratch, similar to what apple is doing with Snow Leopard. This should include Win32. Why are they still using it? They have used it 2000 with Windows NT.

    They are building their product off of a terrible and outdated foundation. Their system is becoming more and more bloated. They are resorting to patches, tons and tons of patches. All this does is temporarily fix the problem, but when an old patch causes something else to break, it takes a long time to fix the new bug. That is why these service packs take so long to release.

    I hope Microsoft gets their act together and makes a better product.

    In the meantime, they really should begin shipping XP again, because they are forcing people into Vista, which will cause more and more pirating of XP.

  8. Carter:

    The question is how should Microsoft market not what they should produce.

  9. What if Microsoft is using Mike Smock’s “Three Move Set” and has the next shoe ready to drop.

    Better yet what if they are (not that I believe it) using a Boyd OODA loop. That would make the next few months very interesting.

  10. @Chase,

    Don’t you think a company should be built upon solid products and not clever advertising moves?

    The question was actually, “What do you think Microsoft should do?”

  11. Chase,

    I agree with you that the question was intended as “what should Microsoft do at this point in time).” That said, my first point was retroactive in saying that MSFT should have responded to Apple’s campaign sooner. Still, the spirit of the question was what should Microsoft do, not how would you remake the company / product into a more easily marketable package.

    However, to Carter’s larger point, I would say that it is rapidly growing impossible to separate out how one should market from how one should produce. My point was that even if Vista is something of a lost cause, there are certainly reasons why a majority of the market decides to go with windows and even reasons why some people passionately believe in MSFT. Why not tap into that. Here’s an analogy:

    Even though most people would argue that frozen custard is objectively superior to soft serve ice cream, I’m betting there’s a lot more soft-serve ice cream consumed than there is frozen custard. And I’d also bet there are people out there who genuinely and passionately prefer soft-serve, despite the pejorative remarks that frozen custard aficionados probably throw at soft serve ice cream.

    So if your job is to market soft-serve, the last thing in the world you want to accept the mental framework of the frozen custard snobs, or spend your time hoping to remake your soft-serve franchise into a Frozen Custard stand. Why not get out there and market what’s fabulous about your product to the people who find it fabulous?

    - Jeff

  12. Jeff,

    Well put. I’m sorry if I didn’t gather what the question meant, I simply think that they should counter the ad by doing just the opposite. Maybe less “counter advertising” and more work on quality assurance.

    Now I like rocketfuel’s idea of reframing it, but even then, the “nerds” will start to get fed up with a less than nice operating system.

    Does anyone think they ought to highlight their features similar to Apple’s iPhone commercials? Vista has some great features, and while they may or may not be original, people may see what they are missing with XP and get excited about giving Vista a chance.

    What do you think about that idea?

  13. Carter,

    I actually thought your comments were rather insightful; MSFT really should concentrate on creating a rock-solid operating system built on new technology, similar to what they did with Windows NT 4.0

    In fact, in my opinion, Windows NT 4.0 represents one of their very best products, and laid the groundwork for Windows XP, which is STILL a darn good OS.

    As for Vista, I really can’t say, as I don’t have enough experience with it. Plus, I wouldn’t be their target audience, as I’ll gladly give up added feature sets for stability, reliability, and predictability – I’m just now thinking of switching to Leopard! So, I agree with you that the decision to make XP non-available probably isn’t a great one. Now, if a guy is in the market for a new computer and doesn’t want Vista, he’s stuck with either Mac or Linux. And I’d guess there are still a decent number of people out there who don’t want Vista.

    Even still, what does it say about MSFT’s marketing skills that I don’t know what the benefits are to Vista? Think about that: all I know is that Vista was so bad that until a few months ago, one could still buy new PCs with XP installed – more than 1.5 years after Vista’s release! I actually had to go and look up Vista’s claimed benefits on Wikipedia.

    Again, I think this points, at least in part, to Apple’s success in framing this debate. And to the fact that Microsoft’s current ads do nothing to re-frame it. Perhaps a good starter campaign for MSFT would be a more thorough and honest version of the “Mojave Experiment” that would both showcase Vista’s advantages and uncover the degree of false press around its putative shortcomings?

    - Jeff

  14. Jeff/Chase… MSFT has a nice pair of size 13 shoes they can drop on Apple. One has to do with the dynamics of Barack Obama’s success the other with the emergence of the iPhone.

  15. I think everyone has contributed a lot of interesting thoughts, but to really answer the question “what should Microsoft do…”, we really need to understand the objectives and strategic issues they’re facing. For example, Linda mentions that the new MSN ads wouldn’t make her give up her Mac, but maybe that’s not what the ads are intended to do. Microsoft may be just trying to halt/slow down customer erosion, and these ads might work by helping current customers feel that they’re in good company – that a lot of famous and smart people are ‘PCs’.

    Having said all that, I still agree that from a marketing perspective, they made a mistake by ‘playing Apple’s game’. They should promote their strengths and benefits (re-frame the argument) in the immediate short term, while improving their product – ideally developing the next generation – as quickly as possible.

  16. Mac didn’t create the Webb/ Miller partnership at all, it is the basis of their comedy career, one cool, one a total loser!

    Mac have always targeted themselves out of mainstream by targeting the ‘hip’ crowd. As much as I hate Vista, and can sometimes feel the need to throw my PC out of a window, (*cymbals*) Windows has always worked well for me and pretty much any computer I sit at will let me do what I need to do within a familiar operating system. Maybe if Mac can get into education they can change their market.

  17. I think the “I’m a PC” ad actually was a very weak attempt to reframe the argument along the “open system being used by everyone in the entire world” vs “closed system being used only for graphic design” lines. The problem is that the latter half of this is not explicitly stated, and using this group as evidence, is probably lost. Also, it does not point out the problems of the closed system.

    The good things (off the top of my head) about PC’s are;
    - Uncomplicated our of the box compatibility with the machines most people use at work.
    - Almost every web site actually works on them because the world uses ie7 on a PC as their primary test case during site development. With more and more javascript on the web today, browser and machine compatibility is a very real problem for “Joe Plumber” (to borrow an election analogy).
    - Many many product and cost options. You can buy machines three years out of date for nothing, build your own machine, or buy a Dell with a four year contract where someone will come to your house and fix it should you have any problems.

    Like all good Marketing, MSFT needs to focus on highlighting its differentiators. Particularly with a slow economy going right now, it should not be hard to convince people that it is smart to spend less money to get a machine that is more broadly capable.

    I would not target Mac aggressively because that gives too much credit to the “also ran”. It would be fun though, to paint Apple buyers as lemmings following a fad, paying extra money for a machine that maybe only does graphic design better even though the lemmings do not do graphic design.

    Please don’t take my examples as my opinion. I am a Marketer, I like mac’s a lot, and I have and use both types of machines. Honestly, I use the PC mostly because my target market does, and I believe that one should eat at least a little of their own dog food.

  18. Microsoft can never be cool.
    This isn’t a stupid ad issue. And who fights whom. It’s a branding issue.

    If you own a space in the customer’s brain, then that’s the space you own. You can look at Macs any side up, and they represent ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ or ‘trendy.’

    That’s their brand.
    That’s their advertising.
    That’s who they’ve projected themselves to be, and the consumer and paying customers have bought into the cool image.

    Ok so what does PC stand for? PC doesn’t stand for cool. But PC stands for the ‘ability to tweak stuff.’

    I’ve owned PCs for twenty years. And I can tell you that PCs are tweakable. There’s loads of hardware and software ‘tweakability’ for PCs.

    Macs aren’t like that at all (and I have to say I love my Mac more than my PC, but it drives me crazy often enough).

    On a PC, I can find software to do what I struggle to do with a Mac. For example, Macs will put in Matsushita drives that won’t let me play legal DVDs. And trying to find software that allows me to make my DVDs region-free is a nightmare. So I switched to the PC. Created a region-free disc, disc image…the works!

    With a Mac, I can’t put in more hard disk space. And Apple decides if I need a Blu-ray or not. And so it’s very ‘un-tweakable.’

    The word for PC is ‘tweak.’

    No matter which way you look at a PC, their branding stands for ‘tweakability.’ The Mac on the other hand stands for ‘cool’. I can do cooler presentations on the Mac, than I can do on a PC, and believe me, I’m very, very capable of doing top quality presentations and delivering them. And so there are cool things I can do with my Mac.

    What I’m saying is that I use both PCs and Macs. I have four PCs. And one Mac. And trying to convince me that a PC is cool, is a waste of Windows’ time.

    Understand your brand.
    PC= Tweakable.
    Mac= Cooooool.

    Then use those advantages to dominate your market.


  19. Saliva hit a nerve … hmmm splain that JS

  20. From a strictly marketing perspective, I’d have advised Microsoft to “ignore the question” and not respond to Apple’s ads.

    I’d suggest they leverage their history of software innovation that supported and helped built the biggest businesses in the world, then segue into their vision and product development for the future. (They need to give their customers a byte of hope that things will improve.)

    As part of that message, they need to remind their audience of the MS OS’s strengths — inexpensive and able to run the majority of the software that’s available.

    They won’t convince Mac users to switch but they might be able to retain current customers.

  21. I’m not sure if they’ll keep current customers. I’ve had my PCs forever. And I bought a Mac when I didn’t need another computer.

    And I can tell you, that PCs may never lose their battle, but the Mac sure is biting at their heels. If you were to ask me which computer to buy, I’d recommend the Mac any day.

    And not just because it’s cool. The way it’s built is so much smarter than a PC.

    They won’t convince Mac users to switch but they might be able to retain current customers

  22. It’s true, Microsoft and PC makers appear to be losing a lot of customers. A close friend works in an Apple Store and says more than half the computer customers are Windows Refugees getting their very first Mac.

  23. It’s not just the PC that’s at fault. I mean you look at a program like Keynote (the equivalent of Powerpoint) and you literally drool.

    And that’s not counting GarageBand and other stuff that’s more than just intuitive. It saves me hours of work.

    One of the cool tools is Automator. So if I were to create a podcast, wanted all the information inserted, and then exported to mp3, I can literally do that automatically. The closest thing to that functionality is the Actions tool in Photoshop.

    So there are lots of goodies. It doesn’t help that PC is seen as fuddy-duddy, but the Mac looks and works better.

    Plus the battery on my Mac Notebook lasts between 3-4 hours. Try telling that to a PC.


  24. is a good domain name for sure!

  25. Macs started as a rebellion against using computers for business by bring computers to people and meeting people at their level. It is impressive that more than twenty years later, the same image works and has consistently been their branding. Once established for so long, it is a hard image to break. What is more, they have managed to turn MS into the epitome of their negative – not friendly, businessy, impersonal.

  26. I use both platforms, a PC for work(because that is what company purchases) and a iMac for home. The point is that Microsoft should play on its strength – for Businesses it’s Cheaper than Apple. If I had my choice I would have an apple for Work also. You can’t argue with the economics when your looking at the bottom line.

  27. Microsoft is running another ad, this time supposedly using YouTube videos. Unfortunately many of the people seem sort of creepy. Once again their running an ad that doesn’t focus on what Vista offers, but is merely a reaction to the Apple commercials. The more these type of ads run the more they make me want to purchase an Apple. They also remind me of the current McCain ads that feature various Joe the Plumbers.

  28. They offer a few suggestions Microsoft could have done purely from an ad strategy POV. There’s also fixing Vista.

  29. Hmm… This is interesting to me because I am currently writing a research paper on windows vs mac using the operating systems. The ad perspective is one of the few methods I am comparing both of the operating systems by. I was hoping if anyone could help point me in the right direction. Frankly, I’m a little lost right now. If you check out my blog,, you will find my blog about my research paper. Any input is fantastic, thanks guys!

  30. What are these companies going to do when Android takes all their market share? I’m sure everyone is pretty well aware that mac/pc applications are disappearing in favor of web direct.

    HTML 5 is likely to eliminate the need for mac or pc.

  31. Looks like Android and/or the Chrome OS now huh property man? Well, I hope that you are right in that Google will shake things up a bit more and give consumers more choices.

  32. It is impressive that more than twenty years later, the same image works and has consistently been their branding. Once established for so long, it is a hard image to break. What is more, they have managed to turn MS into the epitome of their negative – not friendly, businessy, impersonal.

  33. I don’t get why mac always bashes on PCs, I use PCs and I love them… Sure you have to take care of it… but its still great!

  34. I’m not too sure where I stand in the who computer fight. I mean, I have and always have used a PC, but I want to buy a Mac at the current point in time.

  35. It’s true, Microsoft and PC makers appear to be losing a lot of customers. A close friend works in an Apple Store and says more than half the computer customers are Windows Refugees getting their very first Mac. I believe Microsoft needs to step up their game.

  36. Microsoft – Copy Apple – Repeat.

  37. systems by. I was Windows is all about…. boring back office stuff. operating me Perhaps the cool mac guys take over accounting and hoping if anyone could help point everyone is looking slick their branding. Once established for so long, it is a hard image to break. paychecks don’t go out on time becuase What is more, they have managed to turn MS and hip but then

  38. This should include Win32. I don’t understand the fights but i own the mac and pc. I think i lean more to the mac side.

  39. [...] Microsoft’s Ad Vs. Apple’s Three Move Set [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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