After years of being defined by Apple, Microsoft is fighting back and somewhat surprisingly, landing some punches. The company’s latest round of ads featuring real consumers named Lauren and Giampalo trying to buy laptops for less than $1,000 and $1,500, respectively, seems to have struck a chord. (A new ad featuring a mother and son, also from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, is set to break at the end of this week.) At the very least, the Lauren ad has raised the ire of the Apple faithful, who gleefully pointed out that the woman in the ad, Lauren De Long, was in fact a professional actress. Nevertheless, David Webster, general manager of brand marketing at Microsoft (pictured), said his company’s whole campaign, which started in September with those baffling Jerry Seinfeld-Bill Gates ads, has resulted in a 10 percent lift in preference for the brand over Apple. Webster, who formerly worked for New York agency Siegel + Gale, spoke with Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman. Below are some excerpts.
Brandweek: The ads seem to be catching on. People are talking about them. Are you happy with the results?
David Webster: Yeah, we’re thrilled. With this layer, in particular, it seems we’ve hit a nerve. It resonates with people. When we set out to do this, one of the things we wanted to maintain, along with the Rookie spots that featured the little kids and the “I’m a PC” ads that hit in the fall, is we wanted to use real people and have it be as real as possible. And one of our premises is we know our brand has billions of users around the world, so if we can’t find actual customers to do your storytelling around there’s something wrong. The other premise was we wanted to really celebrate that diversity. If you have a billion customers, they’re all different and one of the aha moments we had in the process was there’s no such thing as a perfect PC. There’s just a perfect PC for you. The odds are a lot greater that you’re going to find the perfect PC for you within our universe compared to the other guy’s.
BW: Anytime you go out and say anything mildly critical of Apple you get blasted by Apple fans and so the recent ads have been torn apart. First of all, Lauren is an actress?
DW: It’s one of those things that’s lesson learned. If you’re going to recruit in Los Angeles, you’re going to get some actors who aren’t working. The criteria for being in [the ad ] was you had to be in the market for a computer over the next six months and beyond that we didn’t really quote an occupation.
BW: The other thing branding people are pointing out is that if you’re going to say your pitch is that you’re cheaper than the competition, it’s going to hurt you when the economy recovers. What’s your thinking on that?
DW: The important thing, which will become clear as you see more of the spots is really the thing is we offer a much better value not that we’re cheaper. I mean Giampalo’s PC is $1,500. This next family is near $1,500. We had people who bought PCs at $2,000 price points and so our message really is no matter what you’ve spent, it’s really a matter of what you get for that money, for the stuff you care about, having to give up features or qualities—the parts of the computer experience that you’re looking for against a price point that Apple has. From our perspective the point that comes across is getting more for your money versus just being cheaper.