Windows Is Cheaper, but There’s Danger There

The Wall Street Journal profiles the new installment of Windows and Microsoft’s efforts to strike back at Apple and its enormously successful John Hodgman and Justin Long “Get a Mac” campaign.

In a new chapter to its ad campaign that will begin airing during the NCAA basketball playoffs on CBS Thursday evening, Microsoft will begin hammering on a theme that could resonate in these times of economic hardship: how much less expensive Windows PCs are than Macs. For the commercials, Microsoft’s advertising agency, Crispin Porter + Boguksy, recruited prospective computer shoppers in the Los Angeles area through Craigslist and other sites, with a tantalizing offer to give them between $700 and $2,000 to purchase a new PC.

According to Brad Brooks, corporate vice president for Windows consumer product marketing at Microsoft, the agency told recruits it was a market research firm and didn’t mention it was working with Microsoft. The recruits were told they could keep whatever money they didn’t spend on a PC so they had incentives to look for good values.

The first installment using Jerry Seinfeld was apparently confusing (though I liked the ads). The next set of commercials “I’m a PC” were bland and disappeared into the background.

As the WSJ excerpt above says, this time the agency is using cost as a hook during the recession. The ad is relatively effective; the message is “you can get a Windows PC for much less than a Mac.” With sarcasm the ad also “disses” Mac owners’ arrogance (as perceived by Microsoft and its agency): “I’m not cool enough to be a Mac person.” 

However, there are two potential problems with this “price” campaign as I see it:

  • The message that Windows machines are “cheaper” could reinforce the product’s lower quality image in the market
  • Taking the argument to its logical conclusion takes us to netbooks. The WSJ article, though not the ad itself, mentions that you can get a netbook for $300 (or less).


The least expensive Windows machines are indeed netbooks, which are trendy, offer utility and even a “cool” dimension (overcoming the “low-quality perception” issue with more conventional laptops). But Microsoft is ambivalent about netbooks and doesn’t really want people buying that many netbooks because they cut into margins. 

Still the campaign has a decent chance during this recession to make some gains with consumers, more of whom are shopping price than before. If I were at Microsoft’s agency for the campaign, Crispin Porter + Boguksy, I would emphasize the value one gets for the money rather than focusing largely on “cheaper.” (Could also focus on data like this.)


10 Responses to “Windows Is Cheaper, but There’s Danger There”

  1. Ben Saren Says:

    That’s a very compelling commercial. Looks like a winner to me. We’ll see though.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    It can’t be just about price; the messaging has to be about “value” — you get just as much or about as much for much less money.

    But by emphasizing cost Microsoft sends more and more people to netbooks or really cheap laptops, which might happen anyway. Margins get squeezed, the bad machines break or last a year. This undermines the brand in the long run: short-term gain but longer term damage.

  3. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    The problem is, the less you spend on a machine, the slower Vista runs! And I doubt MSFT’s PC partners are on board with that positioning — they want you to buy the more expensive, higher margin machines.

    Finally, regardless of how cool we actually are, how many folks really want to identify with being “not cool”?

    If I were them I would focus on the basics: You know how to use Windows, it runs all the software you use today, and switching to a Mac is a lot harder than you might imagine.

    I would run campaigns with real people describing the problems they ran into when attempting to make the switch (as I did) and how they finally gave up, realizing that Windows was so bad after all. Call it the “Better the devil you know” campaign 😉

  4. Greg Sterling Says:

    But it’s not hard to adopt a Mac. After years of hesitating I did it because of the stores and the ability to simply go in a buy one. After my Toshiba laptop (Window XP) started failing after a year (I had spend $1300 on it).

  5. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    It wasn’t hard for you — but it was impossible for me despite my best efforts. How hard it is varies — it all depends on how much Windows software you are locked into. My point is, for many people, especially business people, it probbaly IS hard. So if I were MSFT I would leverage that fact. The truth always resonates better than marketing spin.

  6. Larry Myers Says:

    I find the best netbooks come with Ubuntu on them with a custom GUI optimized for the small screen size. For most people it’s plenty. How many people these days need more than Firefox and OpenOffice?

  7. Greg Sterling Says:

    Some people are afraid of unfamiliar brands such as Linux/Ubuntu

  8. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    @Larry: The biggest hurdle is Exchange. My IT guys found it impossible to get it working despite me using the $400 Mac Office with Exchange software. I don’t understand why Apple makes it so hard. It’s is trivial on the iPhone. I believe they licensed an Exchange API (Exchange ActiveSync?) for the iPhone but haven’t done so (yet) for the Mac. They should. That probably would have been enough to keep me on my new Mac. I REALLY wanted to love it.

  9. Rich Schilling Says:

    Buy what you like and what you can afford. I use both. I have a Thinkpad running XP provided by my employer and an iMac for personal use. I made the switch 3 years ago and it was painless. I still love using my iMac today. As far as my Thinkpad… well that’s what IT provided and what they support, but isn’t my machine. My company also doesn’t plan to upgrade to Vista at all this year. We’ll see about next year.

    The two companies have different business models. I have much respect for MSFT as they were able to bring computers to the masses because they are . I like Gates, but Ballmer is an idiot. Let the hardware manufacturers duke it out on price. I think as “Windows” users become more advanced they start to expect more in the user experience as I did. Apple has a far better understanding of the user experience and what customers want or what they don’t yet know what they want or don’t need (e.g. disk drives in the first iMac). I used to enjoy debugging my Dell, but then it became such a hassle and a loss of productivity. The real question here really depends on the user and his/her needs. For my personal use and frustration with Windows, I made the switch after doing a thorough cost comparison. When you compare apples to apples, there isn’t much difference in price.

    Are we comparing OS’s or the whole package of software of hardware? If it’s just the OS then Windows is cheaper if you’re buying a new machine (80% of Windows sales is bundled). However if you’re buying a retail upgrade, OSX is cheaper and less confusing as there is only ONE version as compared to the 5 or so of Windows. Do I buy Vista Home, Premium, Ultimate, etc. I also find it humorous that PC manufacturers offer a “downgrade to XP”. Vista was that successful?

    I think there is also something to be said about Apple providing both the hardware and software. You know it’s going to work and you know you’re going to get the latest and greatest hardware. It’s also interesting that the ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, is a Mac shop.

    Lauren did get a laptop with a 17″ screen for under $1k, but the HP and a MacBook Pro are not created equal. The HP lacks fast wireless 802.11n, fast Gigabit Ethernet, digital audio inputs and outputs, weighs 7.75 lbs, and only features a screen resolution of Apple’s 15″ notebooks: 1440 x 900. Yes it has a 17″ screen, but Apple’s MacBook Pro has a 1920 x 1200 screen resolution. The Apple machine also has an incredible backlit keyboard. If you have ever tried to work in the dark, this is absolutely amazing. The light at the top of my Thinkpad screen is absolutely useless. Not to mention the iLife software that you get on Mac and that I used exclusively for all my digital media. You get bundled crap on Windows that is sometimes very difficult to remove. Anti virus software? I have plenty of it on my work machine, but haven’t purchased any Mac equivalents.

    I didn’t mean for this comment to be this long. So in summary it comes down to what the user needs are. In the end “You get what you pay for”.

  10. Greg Sterling Says:

    Hey Rich:

    I always appreciate thoughtful comments regardless of whether they agree or disagree. Just trying to stimulate interesting discussion.

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