One of the most iconic advertising campaigns in the 2000s was the Apple Mac vs. PC campaign. It was a campaign that stood largely unopposed and made fun of Bill Gates and the PC platform, doing substantial damage to the dominant personal productivity platform’s perceptions.
At the time, I wondered why Steve Ballmer, who ran Microsoft at the time, allowed Apple to attack Gates, who was both his friend and the guy who put him into the Microsoft CEO job. I concluded that perhaps Steve resented that Bill got so much credit for creating the platform and liked that this campaign brought Gates down a peg, but it was my first clue that Steve likely wouldn’t last as CEO given he effectively still reported to Bill.
While I was impressed with that campaign because it focused on making Gates look stupid as it promoted Apple’s offering, it also thought it was mean-spirited. It didn’t move the bar very much, because it appeared more like a personal attack than a truly viable effort to drive Mac sales.
This week, Intel finally responded, coming to the PC’s defense and using the same actor that Apple used, focusing this new audience on what makes a PC stand out against the Mac. I can see some logical places where this campaign could go next and even have a more significant impact.
Let’s talk about Intel’s belated shot at Apple this week.
Looking at Apple differently
Apple has the unenviable reputation of being a horrid company with which to partner. I don’t know a single company that has partnered with them that doesn’t eventually regret having them as a partner. Bill Gates had personally stepped in with a $150 million investment that helped Steve Jobs turn the company around back in 1997, making the Mac vs. PC campaign disparaging Gates seem a tad ungrateful.
Qualcomm was instrumental in creating the iPhone, yet Apple aggressively moved to put Qualcomm out of business to make a few more margin points. Andy Grove, who initially was a huge Steve Jobs fan, was outspoken about his hatred of the guy before he died in 2011, and Apple was instrumental in knocking Intel out of the smartphone market. Musicmatch’s support of the iPod massively increased iPod sales and was a critical component of the iPod’s eventual dominance, yet Apple also put them out of business.
Apple’s massive margins suggest that it is mining their customers for money and taking advantage of the massive loyalty those customers hold for their firm. This last point suggests Apple is misleading customers and that Apple products are highly overpriced for what they provide. Intel, which operates in a more competitive market, rather than attacking Jobs or Tim Cook, instead attacks the image that Apple Macs are a good value.
Intel’s Apple shot
Intel series of videos focuses on what Windows PC have that Apple Macs don’t. Using Apple’s ex-spokesperson adds credibility to the messages, which are well-founded and don’t appear to overreach. Intel needs to stay credible, and it does, pointing out that Macs provide far less choice, far less variety, far less flexibility, and far less innovation than Macs do.
Intel’s apparent exposure isn’t, yet, showcasing is that PCs provide more excellent value for the money. The lack of competition in Apple’s ecosystem assures Apple’s huge margins, but it also means an Apple user pays more and gets less than someone using a PC. Intel calls out touch screens, 2-in-1 flexibility, product diversity, PC gaming (Mac users don’t play games), and multiple monitors (Apple supports one external monitor).
In each case, the direct message is that you get more with the PC, but Intel’s more significant case is building; one I expect they’ll flesh out later is that you are paying more and getting less. This video series could eventually become very powerful if people viewing the videos conclude that Apple is taking advantage of them. Nobody likes being taken advantage of; this would be a repeat of what happened to IBM in the late 1980s, when Sun Microsystems worked to convince the market that IBM was taking advantage of its customers. Seemingly overnight IBM went from one of the most influential brands and companies to a brand with negative equity, and suddenly an ex-CEO was being put on deathwatch.
During Steve Jobs’ tenure as CEO, Apple’s marketing budget was unaffordable by any other company. But Tim Cook, to maximize Apple’s valuation, has been quietly cutting back on expenses like marketing, allowing the firm to coast on Steve Jobs’s past accomplishments. Apple can certainly afford, financially, to counter Intel’s attack but, if they do so now, it will increase their expenses significantly, causing the firm’s valuation to fall. Cook’s focus on margin and valuation and his lack of understanding for marketing work against him here. He is likely not to respond to defend the Apple brand for fear of collapsing Apple’s valuation.
In effect, Cook is caught between a rock and a hard place where he is screwed if he responds and screwed if he does not. I have no doubt Jobs would have responded with a vengeance to Intel’s attack, but Cook isn’t Jobs, and this fight will likely showcase the difference between the two CEOs more definitively than anything else.
One additional problem: Companies are afraid to go after Apple for fear of reprisals. This fear was one of the things that caused Microsoft Zune to fail; Microsoft’s executive team was afraid of what Apple would do if they indeed went after the iPod. This perception of invulnerability is a considerable Apple asset. Still, suppose Intel is successful with this effort. In that case, that image of Apple being untouchable will be tarnished. It should open the company to other competitive attacks that competing firms are suddenly less afraid of Apple.
Wrapping up: The new Intel and the new Apple
Companies change over time, and with Pat Gelsinger, who took over Feb. 15 and was long thought to be the best CEO that Intel could hope to get, this initial battle should showcase just how different the new Intel is from the old. But it could also showcase more definitively than any other recent event how much Apple is unlike the Apple of Steve Jobs and how constrained it is by huge margins and valuation.
Apple has been coasting for some time now on Jobs’s marketing work, and Intel has just started to exploit that. If successful, this should open Apple up to even more attacks, and with its vast margins and profits, Apple is vulnerable.
For me, it was just fun to see another example of how a little creative marketing can have a huge potential impact. A lesson Apple once taught to and now appears to be about to learn from Intel. What comes around goes around right?