Apple Computer – The Subtle Art of being Cool
Apart from those who have been living under a rock for the last three years, most television audience members are aware of the recent Apple campaign aimed at comparing design features of their Mac Computers to that of their competitor, PC. This campaign is highly persuasive in identifying with audience member’s needs through the use of symbols.
The advertising campaign entitled “Get a Mac” was launched in 2006 by Apple. They currently air throughout the world in Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K. The campaign is composed 56 television commercial ads and 9 web ads. Every commercial follows an extremely simple template of a horizontally linear camera angle with a plain white backdrop. On the right side famous celebrity male-actor Justin Long introducing himself as Mac, dressed in casual attire: usually blue jeans and a t-shirt. His character is shown to be youthfully laid back, charming and trendy – or in other words “cool” by cultural standard. This is somewhat ironic considering most of his roles in the past he portrays the awkward teenager in desperate need of respect.
On the other side you have comedian John Hodgeman dressed in a gray/brown business suit. He is portrayed as an uptight, clumsy, ignorant, data-crunching business person who is by no means cool in any definition of the word. He typically is the first to provide information to Mac as an attempt to prove he is worthy and capable of more, functionally. When he is competed against there is a moment within almost every ad where PC “breaks down” emotionally, frustrated that he cannot rival the applicational uses of Mac. Long’s character is portrayed to be understanding and sympathetic towards PC’s inadequacies but is quick to point out new designs of Mac/himself that allow him to do more- thus furthering the competitive gap between himself and the goofy PC. This emphasis is especially apparent in the following examples of Mac Commercials released by Apple.
In the ad entitled “Out of the Box” it begins with the two men sitting inside separate boxes representing the packaging in which the computers come in. In this situation the two discuss their plans. The charismatic mac begins thoughtfully expressing what he could potentially do – make a movie, create a website or even use his built in digital camera. With so many options to choose from he claims he still hasn’t decided. PC expresses in a frustrating tone that he first needs to install all his drivers, delete trial software and read several manuals. Mac then responds “Well it sounds like you have a lot of stuff to do before you do any stuff so… I’m going to get started because I’m kinda excited, let me know when your ready”. Then he enthusiastically jumps out of the box and runs out of frame as the moping PC explains it will be a while since he has parts in other boxes. This trend is repeated later in an ad where PC and Mac are receiving therapy from a counselor. PC emotionally rants of how he constantly feels inadequate because he cannot do as many things as Mac can do out of the box. The counselor then instructs the two to say something nice about the other system/person. PC states “Well I guess you are better at creative stuff. even though it is juvenile and a complete waste of time.”
Another example is when the two discuss how they share a lot of the same programs (like microsoft office) but still maintain what makes their systems unique. Mac optimistically points out PC’s abilities with spreadsheets. PC bashfully responds “Aw shucks” while Mac then goes on to claim how he is better at “life stuff”. When PC angrily asks him to define “better” Mac points out how simple and easy it is use the apple applications whereas it is difficult to create anything on a PC.
As the campaign gains in popularity apple began taking less focus of the functionality of applications and placed attention on basic comparisons. In the ad entitled “Virus” PC has become extremely ill with the new “virus” going around as a result of malware planted on his computer through browsing. He goes onto explaining that last year there was a reported 114,000 known viruses on the internet – in which his opponent replies “for PC’s not Mac’s” and hands him a tissue. This theme was carried over to an episode called “Spyware” in which PC is disguised in order to avoid spyware attacks and offers his mustache-sunglasses to Mac so he will be safe as well. Mac explains he runs Mac OS 10 and therefore does not have to worry about getting viruses, malware or spyware.
A more recent advertisement that was done had a slightly different approach. In “ Self Pity” Mac appears dressed in a business suit as well and explains that Mac’s can also do work stuff too. This does not sit well with PC as he falls into a self pitying tantrum. He stammers on about how he knew this day would come.
It is important to take under consideration the four goals of a persuader. Only then can we truly understand why Apple has become a large success through the uses and gratifications theory. I will also discuss how the use of symbols has played an important role in order to identify with audience members and gratify certain needs.
First of all, Apple attempts to identify with a specific group. Since computers are a tool used by a wide variety of people, demographics have little to offer in targeting and segmenting an audience. However using the demographic of age is a starting point in which is expanded through use of psychographics – or segmenting audiences on the basis of values, lifestyles, attitudes, self image (lecture). Apple is directing their message to creative young adults who most likely favor creating movies, music and editing pictures over filling data in spreadsheets. Apple is saying this computer is trendy, youthful and cool.
Take into account that the Mac is introduced as youthful but this does not mean it is limited to the youth. The target psychographic has potential to consist of anyone with progressive values. Anyone who seeks personal identity via technology can be gratified using Mac. Apple is hoping that when you watch the ads you make the assumption: Those who are creative and progressive use Mac’s. I am creative and progressive, therefore I need to go buy a Mac! Or at the very least: Justin Long supports Mac’s. I like Justin Long, therefore I support Mac’s. If you as an audience member reach this conclusion, then Apple has been successful in identifying with you. This is known as the semantic triangle within Semiotics or the study of symbols. Apple is using symbols in order to provide meaning to viewers that their needs will be met by buy their computer.
This potentially creates cognitive dissonance among present PC users, which may lead to them switching operating systems as it is no longer practical to have an IBM according to Justin Long. At the very least makes viewers reflect on their current stance. In another ad released within the campaign, PC is dressed in a king’s robe and crown. He claims arrogantly that due to Mac’s inability to run many Windows based programs, his customers will always be loyal to him. Mac then responds that any Windows customer can bring their PC drive into the Apple store to have their files reformatted to macintosh. In a later ad, Mac informs the public and PC of an advancement that allows Windows systems to be run on Mac computers.
The second goal is how persuaders use repetition to cut through the static of other advertisements. In a world where special effects and complex computer generated graphics are common, it is ironic that Apple (a computer company) uses an extremely simple approach. Everything from visual images to the language being used is simplified- which in essence is a symbol of the very product they are selling. It is easy to use and safe from viruses- giving you the ability create without worrying about the computer itself. This theme is repeated throughout every ad from the campaign. Every episode is under the same setting (plain white background, light and cheerful music playing) so when it airs, the viewer knows right away that this is a Mac commercial.
Repetition of language is also used through Synechdoches – labels or a slogans that sum up a large amount of complexity. Even the title “Get a Mac” is simple yet to the point. The dynamic of every episode is unchanging. Mac and PC both introduce themselves to the camera. At this point they exchange passive aggressive interaction to prove which system is better. Mac is always portrayed as being optimistic and logical while PC tends to be more emotional about his inadequacy in comparison. PC usually claims something first in order to prove to Mac that he is better or “even”. In addition, Mac always uses the word “stuff” as a synechdotal replacement for more technical terminology. This usually defeats PC’s ranting descriptions of his own functionality. This repetition of simplicity is considered innovative however I believe their is a great amount of detail that can be overlooked. I’ll elaborate on this later.
Thirdly, persuaders look to achieve electronic eloquence. The way in which Mac and PC interact is on an interpersonal level even though they are rivals. Their communication relies on the personal rivalry between two individuals rather than the actual competing computer companies. This is symbolic in itself and viewers are persuaded to make judgements based on who speaks with more ethos, pathos and logos. (credibility, emotion and logic) to weigh their decision. In this case, it’s fairly obvious they are attempting to make Mac seem to be stronger in all three categories. He is credible because he is a celebrity (audience assumption). He shows sympathy towards PC even though they are depicted as enemies. Lastly he is logical because the information he gives is supported by reason.
Let’s refer back to the synechdote “stuff”. Mac is developed for anyone to use and I believe this correlation is noteworthy in regards to the knowledge gap and logos. This situation in which simplicity defeats complexity both equalizes and even empowers Mac users regardless of educational level. In this scenario symbols override any further explanation. People want issues put in ways they understand and that is conducive to this technologically fast-paced culture we live in. However variances in beliefs cause interpretations to differ. Meaning can be lost within the translation of individual experiences and therefore their is huge potential for the gap to increase and even the “dumbing down” of society to occur.
The main strategy of Apple is based on the premise of audience attitudes. Attitudes are defined as “a more or less enduring organization of beliefs around an object or situation, predisposing one to respond in some preferential manner” (lecture notes). These beliefs in which attitudes stem from are categorized as descriptive and evaluative. The descriptive belief of the advertisement is are the computers themselves. What causes a viewer to evaluate them as being good or bad are based on generalizations- by showing a good looking celebrity symbolizing their product and a clumsy business nerd playing as the rival computer company. The use of symbols being priority over detailed information as well as portraying PC as the opposite of “cool” is what Apple uses to persuade audience members – also known as framing.
Certain ethical issues are raised due to this advertisement. To best analyze the ethics of the “Get a Mac” campaign one must consider Habermas three types of speech acts. Constantive- is the truthfulness of the message. Regulative is defined as the appropiateness of sed message. The avowal is whether or not the message expresses sincerity. According to the lecture notes “Persuasive messages involve us in a kind of discourse that may involve these three kinds of speech acts, which can be literally said or written or can be implied by the visual images presented. The message presents information of these sorts, and we, the targets of the persuasive attempt, may talk back in some fashion to challenge them” (Lecture notes). This means that if peruasive message are imposing on our freedom or in other words, coercively persuading us we as a public, we can challenge it.
In the case of Apple’s campaign the line is blurred through the use of layered symbols. The question that is raised is whether Apple is making an ethical argument or do the meanings mislead the viewer coercively? To begin we will decipher the three acts in the ad entitled “Out of the Box”. The constantive of the ad is that Mac is “ready right out of the box” implying that no setup is required whereas PC first needs to install all his drivers, delete trial software and read several manuals. This is an honest contrast between the two systems but is it appropriate? Regulative acts used to influence audience members appear to be ethical since nothing of any negative consequence is directed at members. Mac then goes on to respond “Well I’m going to get started because I’m kinda excited, let me know when your ready” and leaves frame. This appears to be sincere which satisfies the last type- avowal. There are no personal attacks on either audience member or the opposing company therefore this particular ad is ethical according to the guidelines set forth.
It all comes down to the product being sold, which is the fourth and final goal of persuaders. The commodity in this case is the Mac computer. Apple effectively created a persuasive advertisement that is considered innovative by use of symbols in order to appeal to audience member’s needs. They were able weaken support for PC computers as well as boost their own appeal through promoting their simple easy to use applications without violating any ethical standards or first amendment guidelines. The power of symbols continues to be expanded on today.
1. 15 short Ads Mac vs. PC Posted by newmexicoproductions; category: people and blogs tags; Mac PC verses vs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgzbhEc6VVo
2. Borchers, Timothy A. Persuasion in the Media Age (2nd Edition) Boston; McGraw-Hill, 2005
3. Apple’s mean-spirited ad campaign. – By Seth Stevenson – Slate Magazine Retrieved via WEB 07.13.2009
1. The “Get a Mac” ads you won’t find on your television”. Retrieved via WEB 07.13.2009
6. Apple Official Site