Consumer behavior

What do age, ethnicity, and lifestyle have to do with personal computer choices? Quite a bit if you watched Apple’s advertising for the past several years. You probably know the ads well: Two white men in front of a white screen—stereotypes of the computer manufacturer’s users and their corporate culture. The Mac guy is young, good-looking, smart, and very cool. Then there’s PC, who is chunkier, a little dopey, and dressed in a very uncool business suit. The series of ads, currently over 50 of them, have been wildly successful and have helped to advance Apple to double-digit market share in the home personal computer market.

Microsoft ran some scattered advertising throughout this period, but nothing strong and unified. Then, in 2008, the software giant teamed up with Crispin, Porter + Bogusky with a reported $300 million budget for advertising. The first ads to hit the airwaves featured famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Microsoft CEO and founder Bill Gates. In one quirky spot Gates shopped for shoes as Seinfeld accompanied him with clever, Seinfeld-type comments. The ads were poorly received by critics and audiences alike.

The ads stopped running and were replaced by the campaign “Pride,” which is commonly referred to as the “I’m a PC” campaign. The first ad begins with an actual Microsoft employee who stands against a white background that mimics the nerdy, white, male stereotype of the PC user the Mac ads depict. He announces, “Hello, I’m a PC. And I’ve been made into a stereotype.” The ad then showcases a variety of people who state they are a PC. The spot features people of different ethnicities, professional interests, and lifestyles throughout the world. The ad ends with mind-body guru Deepak Chopra who states, “I’m a PC and I am a human being. Not a human doing. Not a human thinking. A human being.”

One of the main purposes of the ad was to shatter the stereotype of the PC user and to show that PC users cross all ethnic, geographical, age, and lifestyle boundaries. According to Microsoft, the campaign is about “… celebrating the individuality within the global Windows community and the pride we have in our own unique passions—and how technology can help us further these interests.” To further the message, Microsoft partnered with the social media advertising network Brickfish to create a microsite where consumers can post photos and videos that express their individuality.

Has Microsoft slowed the rapid growth of Apple? According to the research firm NPD, February 2009 U.S. retail sales of Windows PCs grew 22 percent while sales of Macs dropped 16 percent in the same period. There are other factors in play in addition to the advertising. Product choices are changing as new PC-based Netbooks expand within the market. Also updates to the Microsoft operating systems Vista and Windows may have led to increases in PC purchases. But one thing can be said for sure, the face of the PC consumer has certainly changed from the PC guy of the Apple ads.


1. Can we consider avid computer users as a subculture? If so, how can marketers incorporate this bond in their messaging strategies?

2. Was stereotyping effective in the Apple ads? Did they stereotype ethnic or racial groups?

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