Monthly Archives: March 2009

The New Microsoft PC Ads: As fake as Lauren’s red hair


“Microsoft needs to reset itself to compete in the 21st Century, which promises to be the most painful thing it has done in its decades-long existence.” Matt Asay, CNET

What boggles the collective mind more than anything else is why Microsoft never gets it right  when its corporate rump is on the line as in the internecine ad wars between it and Apple.  The more mystical among the Apple faithful might put it down to some kind of Cosmic Karma; an idea which has  as  good a chance as any  of taking root absent some plausible explanation as to why Microsoft shoots itself in the foot each and every time it squares off against the Cupertino-based challenger.

Let’s take the most recent example as a case in point: Microsoft’s “I’m a PC ad”  starring an actress named Lauren De Long,  masquerading as a hapless customer.

Microsoft Lauren Delong: Foxy and blue jeans hot. And she ain't cool enough for a Mac?

Hot Chickadee: Lauren De Long heating up (and warping) the rails in this form-fitting top and blue jeans. This appears to be a portfolio shot taken some time before the whimsical redhead morphed into Microsoft Lauren - fried frizzly hair and all.

The question of whether Lauren De Long has become the “Joe the plumber” of the ad wars between Microsoft and Apple is rhetorical at this point.  More than an unwitting dupe, Lauren is a giggly accomplice  in a ruse by a giant whose marketing ineptitude  is only matched by its tech foibles. Lauren wins free publicity.  Microsoft loses more credibility …. again.  Tell me something new. Yawn.

Ad Story Line: Lauren is a hapless customer  in search of  a 17 inch laptop below $1000 (an apparent dig at the 17 inch Macbook unibody which, at the time of the ad, was selling in excess of $2,500. The ad also refers to a $2000 Macbook Pro, versions of which have since been lowered to under $2000, thereby leading to threats of an Apple lawsuit which led Microsoft to cut out the reference to price in subsequent ads. What a war! What a war!)

Lauren suggests that she is going into an Apple Store, and appears to come out with nothing before finding a $699 HP laptop in a Best Buys-look-alike store. (Critics point out that there is no evidence that she actually went into that store which she wrongly identifies as a Mac store.)

When the  Lauren ads first hit the airwaves there was a collective gasp and stir,  similar to when Sarah Palin  first hit the national stage in the 2008 presidential election. Perhaps Microsoft had gotten it right this time people thought! But the problem of the new ad soon became apparent: The sales pitch was not as finely tuned as to compare  apples with Apples and the customer  in the ad was as fake as a vaudevillian in classic black face.  Lauren won’t even tell the world how well she fared with  her $699 laptop,  thanks to a non-disclosure agreement she signed with Microsoft and or the advertiser.  Oi Vei!

The new campaign by Crispin Porter + Bogusky (Interesting name, that Mr. Bogusky) is a curious echo of the Chunky Charlie MS Butterfly campaign by McCann Erickson Worldwide. After making crappy, buggy software, does Microsoft  look for the worst ad agencies to plug its crappy softwares? Don’t answer that.

The problems with the Microsoft Lauren campaign are so myriad we will not count all the ways:

1.  Do not lie to people. If you are gonna use randomly chosen customers off of Craigslist, make  sure you do just that. Nothing complicated here. That, in and of itself, would have eliminated  Lauren, at least by dint of  the integrity.  Did we say integrity?

2.  If you want to project  genuineness, pick a natural redhead with a clean coif. Lauren De Long looked like she had been attacked by the a feral cat before her dye job had had a chance to be dried.

3.  Competing on price and price alone is the equivalent of (Microsoft and its PC cohorts) throwing in the towel on the issue of quality, style, value and ease of use in its fight with Apple.  Think the computer equivalent of the domestic vs foreign autos debate. Just as in the latter, there is a reason why Macs sell and hold their value better than PCs.

4.  Microsoft insults people’s intelligence with the Lauren argument. There are more factors (that go into buying a laptop than mere price. These include Microsoft’s product history. Think Microsoft’s  most recent  egg, the Vista operating system. Microsoft should be dealing with that instead of churning out terminally lame ads.

3. The Lauren ad  is all over the place with no  zinger of the order of “Where is the beef?”. By the time we get to the PC store scene, the ad is beginning to feel like a mini infomercial.

5. Lauren’s line, “I guess I am not cool enough for a Mac” is a contrived piece of  crap calculated to  wring the last dollop of mawkishness out of the gonzo script.

6. As the Geek Whisperer astutely points out, the ad inadvertently degrades the value of a PC by insinuating that “PCs are the computer you buy when times are rough… like now. But in the future the economy won’t be in the dumps (hopefully sooner than later).” Point made and case closed.

The Apple Insider’s take on this is interesting, if not instructive. Read this and be your own judge as to who is feeding you cant. You can read the entire article with vids, pics and graphs on the Apple Insider here:

“Shopping for hardware: The new ads don’t go into details on hardware purchases; they simply make the case that PC laptops can be found for cheaper, playing up tight funds in the tough economy. Best Buy actually does sell the DV7-1245DX, an HP notebook with 17″ screen, but it lacks fast wireless 902.11n, fast Gigabit Ethernet, digital audio inputs and outputs, weighs 7.75 pounds, and only features the screen resolution of Apple’s 15″ notebooks: 1440 by 900. Technically, it is a 17″ notebook in terms of size, but it doesn’t have the 17″ resolution of Apple’s MacBook Pro, which is 1920 by 1200.

One HP buyer pointed out that this model series “has the worst screen I have ever seen in my life. It’s the 1440×900 screen and the viewing angles are so poor that even when sitting directly eye level with the screen it is totally washed out. If I go a little bit off-axis the screen results in a negative image. I was using the default settings. Unfortunately I didn’t read reviews before i purchased.”

Shopping for software: More importantly however, the HP notebook runs Windows Vista, rated by ChangeWave as having the lowest operating system satisfaction rating in rankings that were led by Mac OS X Leopard and also included Linux and Windows XP. Many PC makers continue to add a “Windows XP downgrade” as a feature on their new PCs.

This makes it particularly interesting that Microsoft would advertise its product by citing the price of the hardware it runs on, rather than calling attention to any of the features in its own product. It’s not that Microsoft hasn’t tried. Vista’s first “Wow” campaign portrayed customers in a state of pleasant shock when using it.

Shopping for an ad campaign: After those ads collapsed in an avalanche of bad press complaining about arbitrary changes that did not improve anything and software and hardware compatibility problems, Microsoft rolled out the Mojave Experiment, which showed users a “new OS” that was really just a repackaged version of Vista. Those ads attempted to claim that Vista’s bad reputation was all due to customers not giving the system a fair shake, but the ads sidestepped the real problems users were experiencing by not allowing participants to run Vista on their own PC or with their existing software and peripherals.

Microsoft then announced a $300 million campaign to revive the Windows brand by associating it with skits featuring Gates and Seinfeld which promised to “tell the story of Windows.” Instead, the ads were canceled mid-production after being poorly received.

Following that, the company released a “Windows vs Walls” campaign reminiscent of Apple’s Think Different commercials, and then a series of “I’m a PC” ads that tried to defuse Apple’s Get a Mac spots by claiming that generic PCs were empowered to do anything, except of course, producing the ads themselves, as it was embarrassingly revealed that those ads were actually created using Macs.

Promoting cheap: Talking about price during a recession where the global PC market is actually shrinking for the first time ever is probably Microsoft’s best bet in trying to stem the tide of switchers buying Macs. However, the company has to be careful because it’s also competing against free software such as Ubuntu Linux, which also runs on generic PCs. In fact, those PCs get cheaper if they’re sold without Microsoft’s Windows, something the company has worked hard to prevent from happening. “

(Please Note: You can read the entire article with vids, pics and graphs on the Apple Insider here.)

Right next to reinventing itself from the guts, the Microsoft needs to sever its marketing and advertising arm along with crappy ad agencies  like McCann Erickson Worldwide,  and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. (For insightful analyses of Microsoft’s  foibles, articles by Gerry Patterson and Matt Asay under the “Appendices” heading below)

With a $300 million, budget, Microsoft  could have done way better. The CNN Money/ Fortune assumption that this lame campaign has put Apple on the defensive is terminally silly.

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Post Scriptum. To the bloggers who carp that these ad/PR campaigns are skewered, remember what’s good for the goose is even be better for the gander.

The Microsoft/PC  “bashing” ads, if you wanna call them that, have more than a ring of truth to them.  They are light-heartedly  funny, on top of being sharp, terse and extremely well produced. Watch them here and compare them with the droll Lauren clip.  And if that is not enough, go back to the equally droll and mind-numbingly abstruse   MS Butterfly campaign.

copyright© 2009 cyberaxis.wordpress.com

Appendices:

Microsoft to attack Mac pricing in new series of TV ad by Prince McLean (Apple Insider, March 26, 2009)

The Future Looks Bright for Microsoft? (Gerry Patterson, PGTS Journal)

Economy’s “fundamental reset” hurts Microsoft’s earnings and future (Matt Asay, CNET)

O Brother Where Art Thou is a ringing musical …


… brimming with folk bravura and resonant wit. The  cinematic vision is as grand as Sydney Pollack‘s  in “Out of Africa“, and the cliches in it work because the Coen Brothers embrace them with camp-devious abandon. There is a certain light-heartedness that redeems everything it touches.  Any “Dutch attempt and German sublimity” would have sunk this movie like a rock because it is not cut from that kind of mettle.

George Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill is outstanding and John Turturo never fails to deliver. Clooney owes the Coen Brothers for the  role of a lifetime.  Two academy award nominations for best screenplay and cinematography gives more than a nod to that notion. It never hurts that the Coen brothers trot out the talents of comedic stalwarts like John Goodman. He delivers with  the ease of a seasoned hand. And like all  good movies “Brother Where Art Thou?” has an ace up its sleeve: The music.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the music and  musicality behind it trumps anything outside of the  Smithsonian Folkways.  The music from the ol’ time   spiritual “Going down to the river to pray” to the blue grass anthem “Man of Constant Sorrows”  is as gritty as  river sand full of gold nuggets.

George Clooney(left) as Ulysses Everett McGill: The role of a lifetime, perfectly highlighted by John Turturo(right) as Pete.

George Clooney(left) as Ulysses Everett McGill: The role of a lifetime, perfectly offset by John Turturo(right) as Pete and Tim Blake Nelson as the dithering side-kick.

Apple and the culture of seduction


The Apple 20" Cinema Display: Brushed aluminum never looked so good.

The Apple 20″ Cinema Display: Brushed aluminum never looked so good.

Apple’s choice of “the bitten apple” as its company logo seems to have been prescient in the extreme. Why? Because like the apple of Edenic lore,  Apple the company has been the most powerful purveyor of human lust at the intersection of technology.

Plainly stated in the present tense, the genius of Apple is that it makes products that are  near impossible to resist beyond being functionally superior. The fact that they cost more  just adds to their mystique and cachet of value.  Yes,  Apple gadgets are expensive, but that may just be because they are an uncommon amalgam of functionality, reliability and drop-dead aesthetics.  Think Galileo meets Van Gogh, or something to that effect.

Take the 20″ Cinema Display that I am looking at right now.  I bought this as a monitor to pair up with my  bedroom PC computer and fell head over heels in love.  I am  not alone in this.  Right now I have the Apple flat screen next to a brand new  Gateway HD 1080 flat screen which I paid the same price for as the used Apple monitor.  The contest is not even close. The Gateway monitor which is not a dog by any stretch of the imagination is still encumbered by a plasticky garishness. Not so the Cinema Display in its near flawless sublimity.  I cannot stop staring at the Apple monitor and would work exclusively on it if I had the choice. The feather-touch on/off switch and brightness controls on its right right side stunned me the first time I figured out how they actually worked i.e. with touchscreen mojo. No calloused stubbly fingers need apply when it comes  to operating these “precision engineered” 😉  gizmos. It’s little things like that that open a newbie’s eyes to Apple’s technological genius and attention to detail.

apple of seduction - apple's iconoclasic logo

In prospect or retrospect nothing could have been more appropos for Apple’s product as the bitten apple.

I am a PC stiff by default, but can feel myself being pulled towards Apple’s kingdom as if towards the proverbial light, even with its intermittent PR/marketing and business machination problems.

This seduction is something hi-tech hacks have been aware of  beyond the allure of Apple technology, architecture and overall functionality. The attached review of the Apple 30″ Cinema HD Display is a very telling shibboleth of the Apple magic working beyond the liminal. It is there in the Macbook (Unibody) Pro at your nearest Apple store. It is there in the iPod of yore – a minimalistic iteration of a gizmo that had carved out a defined niche well before Apple made its game-changing splash. And yes, it is there in the iconic iPhone, spec warts and all.

The iConic iPhone: An object of desire that also works as a phone. The competition with its clever mods doesn't get it.

iConic & iConoclastic: Apple’s  iPhone: An object of desire that also works. Yeah, kind of like a trophy wife that  can also cook or a boy toy who can deliver as much in the bedroom as in the boardroom. The competition like Samsung, condemned to imitation, just doesn’t get it.

Leice M3 From Minox

Vintage looks in nouveau skins: The Leica M3 from Minox, all shrunk down to miniaturized voodoo …… like a trophy head.

Enter the iPhone 4  Non-4G With PR Guns Blazing:

Nobody knows how to work the consumer lust bone more than Steven P.  Jobs – his iPhone 4 presentation at the Moscone Center being a case in point. Every word, every image and every reference was calculated to – by imagistic association – create a torrent of longing and desire that bypasses critical faculties like McLuhan’s “subliminal pills” for the mind. Check the lingo for the advert Kool Aid quotient – the words designed to press  buttons in the limbic center of the brain. There is nothing equivocal about them:

For 2010, we are gonna take the biggest leap since the original iPhone. (Applause) So today we are introducing iPhone 4.  Fourth  generation iPhone.  (Applause) Now, this is really hot. (Laughter) There are well over a 100 new features and we don’t have time to cover them all today. So I get to cover eight of them with you.   Eight new features of the iPhone 4.  The first one, an all new design. (Giant image of iPhone corner showing precision engineered edge) Now, stop me if you’ve already seen this. (Extended laughter & applause)

Believe me.  You ain’t seen it. You’ve gotta see this thing in person. It is one of the most beautiful designs you have ever seen. This is beyond a doubt the most precise thing – one of the  one of the most beautiful things we have ever made.  Glass on the front and rear and stainless steel running around. And the precision of which this is made is beyond any consumer product you have ever seen. Its closest kin is like a beautiful old Leica camera. It’s unheard of in consumer products today. Just gorgeous.   And its really thin. This is the new iPhone 4. (Applause)

This was the semanto-morphological template out of which Apple’s entire ad campaign was fashioned. Check out the verbatim copy from Apple’smain website:

Engineered Glass – All the breakthrough technology in iPhone 4 is situated between two gloss panels of aluminosilicate glass – the same type of glass used in the windshields of helicopters and high-speed trains. Chemically strengthened to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic, the glass is ultradurable and more scratch resistant than ever. It’s also recyclable.

Stainless Steel Band – Created from our own alloy, then forged to be five times stronger than standard steel, the CNC-machined band is the mounting point for all the components of iPhone 4. The band provides impressive structural rigidity and allows for its incredibly thin, refined design. It also functions as both iPhone 4 antennas.

Leica Camera - Retro Aesthetics Meets Naked Desire

Retro Aesthetics Meets Naked Desire – The point at which exquisite detail meets with austere minimalism: A vintage Leica Camera as Apple’s apple design muse. Now watch the sales of  Leica cameras go up. No kidding here. Copyright – Yukio Miyamoto

Forty Days & Forty Nights:

The nature of this seduction has  been thrown into  sharp relief by the Cupertino  giant’s headline  foibles and curious product cycles; the  iPhone being a good example of how Apple treated early adopters in the shabbiest of ways.  And the lack of candor  surrounding Steve Job’s health took a lot of sheen off the Cupertino giant. Many people were left wondering if stock holders had been royally  shafted. (Check out this New York Times column.) The disclosure, after the fact, of  Steve Jobs’ liver transplant has Warren Buffet more than wondering.

And most recently (by way of a March 2011 update) the curious  launching of the iPad 2, has left many fans and prospective adoptees scratching their heads. How could the most brilliant computer/marketing company botch a product launch like this given what people have come to expect of Apple: annual launching schedules that come and go with the precision of a metronome?

What these foibles have done is to make PC-hacks-by-default  like me pause before jumping head first in into the Kingdom of the Bitten Apple. The road to Steve Job’s castle is  lined with caveat emptor signs  which do not necessarily diminish his, and Apple’s mercurial legacy.  It just makes  fence-sitters like me take note and consider straddling the divide for a little  longer if not forever. (I am also holding out on Windows 7, if you gotta know.)  I doubt that I am alone in wanting to  denounce the droll commercialism of Redmond, and come into the kingdom of The Bitten Apple faithful with head bowed and eyes averted. But there is probably something very wrong with this consumerism-as-religion kind of thing. But come to think of it where would religion be without the  possibility of seduction – the desire  to possess and be possessed?

“Apple is like a crack holder on a street full of junkies” Petra, (Only Kent)

“I’m not the only one for whom the iPad appears to be a gateway drug.”  Adam Lashinsky (Forbes)

“You know what’s wrong with this company? The products suck. They’ve got no sex in them.” (Steve Jobs at first come-back-from-exile meeting at Apple Campus as quoted in Bloomberg Game Changers: Steve Jobs)

copyright© 2009 cyberaxis.wordpress.com

Appendix:

How Steve Jobs and Apple Turned Technology into a Religion (L.A. Times Article by Chris Obrien)

Bloomberg Game Changers: Steve Jobs (Bloomberg Documentary, http://www.bloomberg.com)

Apple iPad withdraway: Why I want my tablet back now (Jason Perlow, ZDNet)

Woman gets $900 for spot in iPad 2 line (Chris Matyczczyk, CNET) $900 is more than the price of the iPad 2.

Confessions of a Mac switcher (Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, CNN Money)

How Steve Jobs out-Japanned Japan (Jeff Yang, SF Gate)

Steve Jobs Introduces Original iPhone, MacWorld Conference, 2007 (dotsub.com)

Four things you need to know about Apple by Mike Elgan

iPhone Addictive: Survey Reveals (Dan Hope, Technical News Daily)

And the best die young: The short life and death of Selena Quintanilla-Perez


(And the best die young: The short life and death of Selena Quintanilla-Perez –  Copyright© 2009 – cyberaxis.wordpress.com)

March remains the cruelest of all months;  and the 31st,  the day time stood still  in a space so surreal it deserves its own  time-line.

Flashback reminiscent of November 22, 1963:  It’s  a little after 1.05pm and the news that would rock Corpus Christi and the world begins to fan out of  Memorial Medical Center (now the Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi – Memorial):  Selena Quintanilla-Perez, the celebrated  Queen of Tejano has just died after being shot by  the former president of her fan club.  Incongruity: Selena the most loving person in the world had just died following the most hate-filled encounter. The collective mind could not wrap itself around this. It still cannot.

Selena Quintanilla - The Corpus Christi Caller Times (Pic - George Gongora)

Shooting Star … One to the Universe: The late Selena Quintanilla-Perez April 16, 1971 – March 31, 1995. The symbolism in this pic is stunning “Como La Flor.” She has through fate and circumstance, become the symbol of our joy and pain clarified and bottled like an essence; stunningly potent in its essences and guises. (Copyright: George Gongora, Corpus Christi Caller Times)

And so it has been with this tragedy, that the majority of us  have been  condemned to start the story of Selena at the end of it with a casket,  instead of  the irrepressible little girl who would transfix the world with her song. Continue reading