What’s Wrong With the Mac ‘Genius’ Commercials?: An Analysis of Mac commercials, past and present

During the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony, Apple debuted their Mac ‘Genius’ advertising campaign1. A mere two days after its debut, Ken Segall, the Man who put the ‘i’ in iMac2, was reassuring everyone that “the sky is not falling3. Coincidentally, Ken acknowledged that the idea behind the ‘Genius’ campaign is “pretty good”; but emphasized that the idea was poorly executed3. So, what makes the ‘Genius’ TV commercials so awful? Bad copy aside, the ‘Genius’ television commercials are simply inconsistent with Apple’s brand image – an image forged by Apple’s ‘Think Different’ television advertising campaign and later polished with the ‘Get a Mac’ television advertising campaign.

Apple’s ‘Think Different’ television advertising campaign: It’s hard to imagine that Apple was once on the verge of collapse. With losses exceeding $1 billion annually, Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers, poignantly remarked that if he was in-charge he would’ve “shut [Apple] down”4. Steve Jobs knew that Apple’s brand was tarnished and he intended to re-polish it4. And re-polish he did. With a simple mantra – cool products demand cool pitches – Steve Jobs began his opus with the ‘Think Different’ television ad, which ran in 19974.

The ‘Think Different’ television ad was elegantly simple. The lone 60-second commercial featured black-and-white stock footage of iconic 20th century personalities, such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jim Henson; which was overlaid with the following monolog narrated by Richard Dreyfus:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The one’s who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them. Disagree with them. Glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world – are the ones who do!”

“You can’t talk about profit, you have to talk about emotional experiences”, Steve proclaimed. Steve understood that evoking powerful emotions through stylized imagery and ardent copy was necessary, if Apple was to rebrand itself. The ‘Think Different’ television ad did just that. By what can only be characterized as an artistic stroke of genius, Apple had seemingly forged an image as a hip, rebellious, counter-culture brand for hip, rebellious, counter-culture consumers.

Apple’s ‘Get a Mac’ television advertising campaign: The ‘Get a Mac’ advertising campaign was not Apple’s first attempt at promoting the advantages of Macs over PCs. A short-lived, unpopular television advertising campaign dubbed ‘Switch’ featured “real people” who had made the switch from PCs to Macs5. As evident in the Ellen Feis ad, the persuasion attempt relied on rational arguments to influence purchase intentions; whereas other ‘Switch’ ads relied on celebrity endorsements, e.g. Kelly Slater and Will Ferrell. Either way, the ‘Switch’ ads failed to evoke powerful emotions like their predecessor, the ‘Think Different’ ad. The ‘Switch’ television advertising campaign was seemingly cancelled after unflattering parodies surfaced on the Internet.

In 2006, Apple launched its ‘Get a Mac’ advertising campaign. The ‘Get a Mac’ ads followed a standard template. Each commercial is set against a white background and features two men – one posing as a Mac, the other posing as a PC – comparing the attributes and capabilities of a Mac and a PC.

For example, the first commercial, dubbed “Better”, opens (and would be repeated many times over) with a line that now resides in the long-term memory of virtually everyone living in the civilized world: “Hello. I’m a Mac. And I’m a PC.”

Immediately after which, both Mac and PC agree that they are similar: “You know we use a lot of the same kind of programs”, says PC. “Yeah, like Microsoft Office”, acknowledges Mac.

As the dialog progresses Mac admits that PC is much better at business applications: “You should see what this guy can do with a spreadsheet – it’s insane!”

But Mac immediately quips that: “[PC] knows that I’m better at life stuff – like music, pictures, movies – stuff like that.”

The remainder of the commercial is filled with dialog and imagery of PC clumsily trying to refute that Mac is “better” than PC.

At first glance, it appears that Apple is using rational arguments (i.e. Mac is better at “life stuff”) in order to polish its brand image. However, a closer examination reveals that Apple is actually polishing its brand image through stylized (i.e. stereotypical) images of Mac and PC users. The commercial intentionally portrays Mac as being hip, cool, artistic and fun; whereas, PC is intentionally portrayed as being geeky, dull, corporate and boring. Similar characteristics would be coded in each of the 65 subsequent commercials, which aired from May 2006 to October 20096. More importantly, like the ‘Think Different’ ad, the ‘Get a Mac’ ads evoked powerful emotions because consumers could identify (i.e. an attempt to emulate an admired or idealized person) with the stylized images of Mac users. This ultimately formed an emotional basis for purchase intentions (flashy industrial design, hip outlet stores and innovative products aside).

Apple’s ‘Genius’ television advertising campaign: The ‘Genius’ ads also follow a standard template. Each commercial features an Apple Store Genius, who is seemingly always there to lend a helping hand.

For example, the commercial dubbed “Mayday” opens with a scene on board an in-flight airplane. As the scene progresses the captain asks if there is an Apple Genius onboard over the intercom system. A young man, sporting a blue Apple t-shirt, stands up and indicates that he is a “Genius”. The flight attendant then escorts the Apple Genius to a man who has forgotten his wedding anniversary and is desperately trying to make an iMovie for his wife before the plane lands. The Genius then guides the man through the process of making an iMovie, while seemingly highlighting the ease-of-use and the functional capabilities of iLife software.

(The commercial dubbed “Labor Day” is nearly identical; whereas, the commercial dubbed “Basically” is more line with the “hip” and “cool” theme of owning a Mac.)

‘Genius’ television ads are simply inconsistent with Apple’s brand image: As previously noted, Steve Jobs never intended purchase intentions to be a rational decision. Rather he preached emotional appeal. Emotional appeal is where the ‘Switch’ ads fell short and the ‘Think Different’ and ‘Get a Mac’ ads excelled. This argument is further evidenced in the iPod television ads, which featured black silhouettes dancing to popular music. As such, it is evident that the ‘Genius’ ads miss the mark on emotional appeal.

Moreover, the ‘Genius’ ads appear to target at an older demographic – most likely members of Generation X. The target audience also appears to be new to Mac’s, as they are unfamiliar with iLife software. I agree with Ken, “The last thing [Apple] wants is to win customers at the costs of looking ridiculous to its enthusiastic supporters.”3. There is no reason why an advertising campaign cannot appeal to both core consumers and the target audience. Hopefully, Apple has realized it’s mistake (as I’m sure they have) and that the ‘Genius’ ads will be a distant memory sometime in the future.


1Griner, D. (2012). Apple Gets Cocky Again With New ‘Genius’ Ads: Tone harkens back to ‘Get a Mac’ days. Retrieved from: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/apple-gets-cocky-again-new-genius-ads-142250

2Chen, B. X. (2012). One on One: Ken Segall, the man who put the ‘i’ in iMac. Retrieved from: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/06/ken-segall-insanely-simple/

3Segall, K. (2012). New Mac Ads: Landing with a serious thud. Retrieved from: http://kensegall.com/2012/07/new-mac-ads-landing-with-a-serious-thud/

4Stone, B. (2011). Steve Jobs: The return, 1997-2011. Retrieved from: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/the-return-19972011-10062011.html

5Apple Launches “Real People” Ad Campaign. (2002). Retrieved from: http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2002/06/10Apple-Launches-Real-People-Ad-Campaign.html

6Nudd, T. (2011). Apple’s ‘Get a Mac,’ the complete campaign. Retrieved from: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/apples-get-mac-complete-campaign-130552




Meme E

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