For years, Apple Computer has had to play the perennial underdog in the computer marketplace. Because of their solid, loyal user base, Apple has been unwilling to concede the marketplace to Windows-based competitors. The "Switch" campaign, alternatively titled "Real People," features video testimonials from former Windows users who saw the light and switched to using the Mac. Directed by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line), the ads have a minimalist style and show the speaker against a solid white background as light but jumpy music plays in the background.

The ads are not scientific: in most cases, the ads compare brand-new Macs with older PCs. The "Switch" ads are designed to assuage fears that users' software will not work on Mac OS, or that the transition will be hard.

The basic structure of a 30-second spot:

  1. The user explains his/her job or computer needs.
  2. Why Windows was unsuitable for this work, and/or why Mac OS X is superior.
  3. Apple logo and URL.
  4. "My name is (name), and I'm a (job title)."

The first generation of ads started to run in June 2002. As of December 2002, the campaign is still running in print and on television. The ads have since branched out to include various celebrities and other people in the U.S. and Japan. Of course, many people started to spoof these ads, highlighting the bait and switch tactics surrounding the institution of a $99 annual fee for iTools (now .Mac) and the lack of games on Mac OS X compared with Windows. Even Apple themselves has spoofed the campaign, producing several ads featuring comedian Will Ferrell. One of these ads includes Ferrell introducing himself as a "porn actor." None were aired on television.

Microsoft tried to counter this campaign by running a story on its PR web site about how one of its employees successfully switched from Macintosh to Windows. It cited a lot of advantages that Windows has over Mac OS, but was written like a product brochure instead of a personal anecdote. Furthermore, the photo of the "author" turned out to be a stock photo from Getty Images. Shortly after this faux pas was picked up by ZDNet, Slashdot, and other news organizations, Microsoft withdrew the article without comment. Microsoft has since disclosed when it is using fictitious stories to support its products (see http://www.microsoft.com/office/onenote/usage/default.asp for an example).

Although the ads have been amusing and have thrilled the Mac faithful, converts to the Mac OS platform have been few and far between. Apple reported that four out of ten Mac buyers had never owned a Mac before, but did not elaborate on the number of users who had never owned any computer before. The ads have struck nerves: a USA TODAY poll on December 16, 2002 reports that 18% of consumers like the ads "a lot," while 17% "dislike" the ads. The age group most strongly liking the ads is 30-to-39-year-olds (23% like a lot) while 47% of 18- to 24-year-old consumers "dislike" the ads.

A list of ads running as of 12/16/2002:

The four Japanese spots:


Sources: http://www.apple.com/switch/, http://news.com.com/2100-1040-934349.html, http://www.usatoday.com/money/advertising/adtrack/2002-12-16-apple_x.htm

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