About Those Totally Unscripted Microsoft Commercials…

By  |  Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 8:23 am

As Ars Technica is reporting, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner is saying that that Apple has asked Microsoft to pull its Laptop Hunters ads that show consumers turning up their noses at Macs as being overpriced and underequipped:

And so we’ve been running these PC value ads. Just giving people saying, hey, what are you looking to spend? “Oh, I’m looking to spend less than $1,000.” Well we’ll give you $1,000. Go in and look and see what you can buy. And they come out and they just show them. Those are completely unscripted commercials.

And you know why I know they’re working? Because two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, hey — this is a true story — saying, “Hey, you need to stop running those ads, we lowered our prices.” They took like $100 off or something. It was the greatest single phone call in the history that I’ve ever taken in business. (Applause.)

I did cartwheels down the hallway. At first I said, “Is this a joke? Who are you?” Not understanding what an opportunity. And so we’re just going to keep running them and running them and running them.

Two thoughts:

1) If Apple’s complaint was that some of the specific pricing facts quoted in the commercial are no longer correct–like the statement in this one that the best Mac laptop under $2000 has 2GB of RAM–what exactly is that reason for cartwheels? Seems like a reasonable point to me. Seems like something Microsoft might do in a similar situation. Like if Mozilla ran ads saying that Internet Explorer didn’t have tabs, for instance.

2) Microsoft keeps saying that the ads are unscripted. I believe it. But they weren’t unedited, of course. And it’s worth noting that when folks noticed that Lauren, the first Laptop Hunter, mistakenly called the Apple Store “the Mac Store,” the company’s re-edited, 30-second version of what was originally a 60-second ad changed her “unscripted” comments to have her calling it the Apple Store. Here are the original ad and the fixed version:

I’m not sure whether the correction to Lauren’s “Mac Store” reference was made in the interest of accuracy…or whether it was because some people thought it made her look like a ditz. Maybe it was a little bit of both.

Microsoft also tinkered slightly with Lauren’s comments about Macs later in the ad, apparently to compress them for the shorter ad. I’m assuming that the rewording was accomplished through piecing together of existing audio rather than by having her record new material. ‘But I do sort of wonder if they finessed anything else in the ads to serve their purposes.

The folks in the ads may be real, but cinema vérité these commercials aren’t….



18 Comments For This Post

  1. Steven Fisher Says:

    No, they’re not real at all. Look at the surroundings before and after she goes into the Apple store. People haven’t moved, even the ones in motion. There’s no way she looked at anything inside.

  2. Krishna Santani Says:

    Sure, these ads are going to help Microsoft in the longer run as they are well thought and target MAC in a better way. But these are scripted ads no doubt about it. Everything is so planned and perfect..!!

  3. JEF Says:

    This totally disgusts me with Microsoft. The only thing worse than these commercials would be putting up a graph showing yourself as the largest mobile app store, but leaving out the market leader. Or blasting your competitor for doing an iteration of it’s OS and then announcing your own OS product which is a….iteration. Or….I could go on forever here.

  4. Bill Snyder Says:

    Jeez, guys, it’s an ad, as in paid advertisement. What do you expect? If you’ve lived in America for more than, oh, five minutes, you know that all ads have large bullshits quotients. I’m surprised that Harry is even bothering with this one.

  5. DTNick Says:

    Anyone else getting sick of the Apple-MS ad wars?

  6. infmom Says:

    One of those commercials appears to have been filmed at the Fry’s Electronics store in Fountain Valley CA. That must have required a long period of intense negotiations, because ordinarily the owners of Fry’s launch themselves halfway to Mars at the thought of a camera inside the store.

  7. altrenda Says:

    why does apple even need lawyers and pr flacks, when they’ve got people like you, Harry?

    never miss a chance to jump to their defense, especially to throw mud at MS. It’s a tech writers favorite sport.

  8. Harry McCracken Says:

    @BillSnyder: I dunno, Bill–since Microsoft keeps crowing that the ads were unscripted, I think it’s reasonable to point out that they fudged with the unscripted wording in at least one of the ads.

    @altrenda: I dunno, Altrenda–I criticize Apple (check my coverage of App Store policies?) and say nice things about Microsoft (check my Windows 7 coverage?). And as far as I know, I’m the one and only journalist on the planet who quit my job when I was told to be sensitive about offending Apple. If nothing else, I would hope that would inoculate me against charges of being an Apple apologist:



  9. Mayank Agarwal Says:

    Well looks like MS is full on these dayz…. 1st Bing, then MS Office 2010 (that too free cloud version) and now this….! woah…!

  10. Evan Says:

    As Bill noted above, companies make ads, and ads have a large BS quotient. What I’m curious about is more the reaction to the ads. At the time the MS ads came out, the only tech sites I visited regularly were this one and a couple others. At least on the sites I visited, commenters and writers viewed Apple’s BS as “funny,” whereas Microsoft’s BS was met with outrage and indignation. Both being for-profit companies, that struck me as odd. Is that reflective of the general public?

  11. ecco6t9 Says:

    I’m more upset they haven’t taking me laptop shopping.

  12. william Says:

    I would say that the reason the guy is doing cartwheels is that this is the first time in forever that MS has an ad that has created enough buzz for Apple to even notice!

    The word “unscripted” is virtually meaningless in this context. Reality TV shows are “unscripted” too. It’s all about the clever editing.

  13. Tech Says:

    Those ads are great. Apple did the same thing to them and now they’re whinging about it.

  14. Harry McCracken Says:

    I should probably mention this every time I squawk about Microsoft advertising, but there are multiple things I don’t like about Apple’s “Get a Mac” ads, too, especially the oddly retro notion that PCs are mostly about spreadsheets. But the thing about the pricing in the Windows ads strikes me as a special case, since the ads are simply quoting out-of-date information.

    Incidentally, I have a piece coming up in Macworld in which I basically say that both campaigns are silly and, on some level, insulting to the companies’ own customers. (Microsoft likes to sell copies of Office to those effete Mac snobs; the majority of iPods and iPhones are sold to those Windows-using nebbishes.)


  15. JDoors Says:

    @Harry: “Microsoft keeps saying that the ads are unscripted. I believe it. But they weren’t unedited, of course.”

    That’s a valid point.

    The pricing thingy ain’t. It’s petty. But Microsoft would be wise to create newer ads nonetheless. They work (on many levels) and are kinda fun to watch.

  16. DTNick Says:

    @JDoors: Petty or not, Apple was well within their rights to ask MS to pull them because of that, if this is indeed what the phone call was about. It doesn’t mean the concept behind the campaign is invalid, of course.

  17. Helene Smith Says:

    You get what you pay for. Apple makes amazing, reliable, machines that withstand tremendous trials of both an operational and physical nature. I can open seven or eight apps and leave 35 windows open EVERY day, put the Mac to sleep and then do it again the next day, opening and closing numerous apps and windows, and forget to reboot for weeks! This is on a standard, no bells and whistles, MacBook!! And I LOVE Apple Care (is that still what they call it? I barely use it!) — they are easy to deal with, helpful even if something isn’t in their “jurisdiction”, etc. It all comes together in what feels like an intimate relationship with a company and my precious machine.

  18. brian Says:

    Here’s the problem I have with the Laptop Hunters ads: If MS (or whoever) is giving them the money, then why do these unscripted people have a “budget?” Do they reject anyone who says $3,500, and I’m looking for a MAC?

    If these people are “real” and not actors, they must have to go through a lot of red-tape before they go shopping. Like signing things that say, I’ll look at the Macs first, but I promise I’ll bash them in some way for being over-priced.

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