Actor Justin Long attends the “Safe Spaces” screening during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New … [+]
I may be dating myself, but one of my favorite ad campaigns of all time is “Get a Mac,” created for Apple, which ran from 2006 to 2009. These ads followed a standard template in which a pleasant-looking man, played by actor, Justin Long, dressed in casual clothes enters a minimalist screen and introduces himself as an Apple Macintosh computer. “Hello, I’m a Mac,” he says, in an affable, cool and laid-back manner. Then, a rather nerdy-looking man, played by author and humorist, John Hodgman, dressed in stodgy formal attire, generally a suit and tie, comes into the screen and introduces himself as a Microsoft Windows personal computer. “And, I’m a PC,” he says, in an uncomfortable, awkward and somewhat manic manner. The two then act out a brief, droll vignette in which the capabilities and attributes of the Mac and the PC are compared, with the PC always characterized as frustrating and irritating, in some functionally significant way, versus the Mac which is characterized as easy and intuitive and user-friendly.
While these ads played up the perceived weaknesses of PCs, especially those running Microsoft Windows, and the corresponding strengths of the Mac, from a marketing perspective they stood out to me for another critical reason. In a category that had built its marketing on touting speeds and feeds, it was the first time a company in the category based its marketing on a brand’s persona. Apple had such a clear sense of “who” it was, its personality, that it made the decision to make this the key competitive and powerfully differentiating factor in its advertising. The objective of the campaign was to associate PC users as bumbling, uncomfortable nerds, while associating Apple users with being fun, creative and approachable. Did the campaign work? In short, yes. Not only did Mac sales go up in 2006, but the fact that Apple ended up making 66 different spots over a three-year period, speaks volumes about the success of their strategy. Companies don’t build on campaigns that don’t work. The “Get a Mac” campaign was instrumental in shaping Apple’s reputation with consumers.
Justin Long and John Hodgman did a remarkable job as spokespeople for Apple. The point in my relating this bit of marketing history is to tell you why I believe Justin Long won’t have the same success in his new role as the spokesman for—wait for it—Intel’s PC business. For those who are not familiar with their new initiative, chipmaker Intel has just produced a series of ads mocking Apple’s M1 Macs and it brought on Justin Long to satirize Apple’s famous ad campaign. In five videos titled “Justin Gets Real” that launched on Intel’s YouTube channel, Long begins by saying, “Hello, I’m a ….Justin, just a real person doing a real comparison between Mac and PC.” In the spots, he explains why the Windows laptop with an Intel processor is functionally better for a variety of reasons than an Apple Mac. He compares everything from the color and style PC offerings to the specific features of interest to gamers. In essence, Intel is trying to flip the script on the campaign that made PCs look like the least cool dudes in town.
There are four reasons I don’t believe Justin Long’s new role will achieve for the Intel brand what his previous role was able to do for Apple. First, the casting of the “Get a Mac” campaign was brilliant. And the reason it was brilliant was because Apple had such a clearly defined sense of who it was and what it wanted to stand for in the minds of consumers. More significantly, its stated intention was to leverage this brand persona as its differentiating selling point in the category. Justin Long’s character skillfully took on the personification of the Apple brand exemplifying how it wanted its users to picture themselves. And, likewise, John Hodgman’s character, just as adeptly, took on the persona of a PC and, by association, PC users. In the current Intel campaign, Long is being employed simply to give voice to the functional differences between PCs and Macs. His persona, Intel’s persona, has nothing to do with anything. It’s not part of the strategic equation the way it was in the “Get a Mac” campaign.
The second reason Justin Long’s new role as Intel spokesman is likely to be less effective than was the role he played for Apple is that there is no John Hodgman. The whole schtick of the “Get a Mac” campaign was the interplay between the two characters. Long was the cool guy. Hodgman was the nerd. It was the story line, the two-character parody that brought to life the differences between one product and the other and that made the campaign so memorable and compelling. Laurel was not funny without Hardy, just as Ernie is much less amusing without Bert. It was the dramatic tension between the two players that gave the campaign its power and its credibility.
The third reason Long’s leap from Mac to PC spokesperson may not prove all that successful is that the functional differences he points out between Macs and PCs are relatively small ones in this highly competitive industry. While they may certainly matter to one audience or another, he’s not talking big categorical game changers. The original Apple ads were based on significant consumer insights, factors that made for major differentiators in the buying decision. PCs can be confounding and confusing and pose myriad challenges, while Macs are easy and fun and friendly.
And, the fourth reason I don’t think the Justin Long will be effective for the Intel initiative? Inside baseball. That’s the term that refers to the minutia or inner workings of a system that typically denotes things about which only a few insiders care. They have prior knowledge of, and appreciation for, whatever this is. As I said earlier, I’m dating myself. I know who Justin Long is and why his role as the Intel spokesperson may be somewhat relevant to some viewers. But most people, especially the people to whom Intel is marketing, don’t have the context for why Justin Long has been cast in this role.
This is much the same situation as when Paul Macarelli, the “Can you hear me now?” Verizon guy put on a yellow shirt and started doing ads for Sprint. His ads for Verizon, aired from 2002 until 2011, had been extremely successful for the brand given that it was the right message (dropped calls) at the right time (Verizon was expanding its network). And, being cast as the Verizon “Test Man,” gave Macarelli a high degree of authenticity as a spokesperson. In 2016, Sprint, similar to Intel, thought it was a clever marketing tactic to pull a switcheroo, using the same actor who previously spoke for the other side. In my marketing book, this isn’t clever. Clever out of context rarely is. Just as it was with Sprint’s use of Paul Macarelli, Intel’s rationale for using Justin Long in its latest campaign is lost on most viewers. As the Apple guy, he served a meaningful purpose. He was the Apple brand.
It’s my opinion that Intel should have had a better understanding of why the original Long-Hodgman partnership was so effective before they hired Justin Long. In his role for Intel, he’s just a nice-looking, genial guy, comparing and contrasting PCs and Macs, a role that could have been played by any nice-looking, genial guy. From my inside baseball perspective, I’d say out of context makes this marketing effort less than a home run.
I am the cofounder of Metaforce (Metaforce.co) and an expert in all disciplines of brand. My latest book is Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a