The Magazine's review of advertising
THE ADS: Mac v PC
That new Mitchell and Webb look
THE BRIEF: Persuade the millions of people who own iPods (but use PCs) to switch to a Mac
THE SCHTICK: One cool-looking bloke introduces himself as a Mac. An uncool bloke in a suit and bad haircut introduces himself as a PC. Through a series of adverts, they discuss the shortcomings of the PC versus the merits of the Mac. The PC character is neurotic, insecure and a nerd; Mac, in return, is relaxed, hip, but - crucially - not unfriendly.
THE BREAKDOWN: This series has been running for more than a year in the US, with two slightly-known actors in the roles now filled for the UK audience by David Mitchell (PC) and Robert Webb (Mac). Apple has taken the unusual step of reconstructing its US ads verbatim for overseas markets - there is already a Japanese "PC" and "Mac" who have the same conversations with the same dress sense and the same backing music. This is a new twist on globalisation.
The idea for the campaign draws heavily on a previous one devised to persuade PC users to switch to Macs. In reality that campaign probably contributed largely to the sense of well-being (and dare one say it, self-righteousness?) of Mac owners. The debate between supporters of different operating systems, which these adverts perfectly reflect, has become such a passionate one it at times become tribalism. It's Mods v Rockers, Roundheads v Cavaliers.
So one of the most significant things about this series is the attitude of the Mac character towards the PC character. In the US version at least, there's no overt smugness. Mac is friendly towards PC, he's not judgmental, hostile or self-satisfied. In one episode, for instance, they visit a therapist who invites both to say something nice about each other. PC, Mac says, is "a wizard with numbers and you dress like a gentleman". PC tries to say something nice about Mac, but struggles and eventually manages a contemptuous: "Well, Mac, I guess you are a little better at creative stuff... even though it's juvenile and a waste of time."
The original and best
The reason for this friendliness is obvious: smugness is just not attractive, especially if you happen to be telling someone whose computer is crippled by viruses that your operating system doesn't suffer from them (yet). So don't make people who own PCs feel bad or small or stupid... flatter them, be nice to them, but also give them something to aspire to (ie buy a Mac and stop being a nerd).
So does it work?
Casting is critical here: are Mitchell and Webb as effective for a UK audience as the US stars, Justin Long and John Hodgman? For much of the UK audience, it's possible that a familiarity with Mitchell and Webb's excellent Channel 4 programme, Peep Show, counts against their effectiveness here. Knowing that Robert Webb plays the opportunistic insincere Jez does not exactly enhance his role as an honest friendly broker for Mac. Similarly, knowing that David Mitchell is likeable, decent and intelligent (albeit a loser) doesn't ultimately put the PC character in as bad a light as in the US version.
Perhaps Apple felt the pair were not yet so well known that their comic personas would be a problem. Yet at the foot of poster versions of the advert is a line saying "Watch Mitchell and Webb as Mac and PC." Apple is, in effect, trying to have it both ways; wanting to appeal to fans of Mitchell and Webb but wanting the characters to come with no baggage. It's not wholly convincing.
The US version was criticised by Slate Magazine's Seth Stevenson because the Mac character came across as a "smug little twit". Robert Webb has obviously tried hard to avoid looking smug, but it hasn't quite come off: you feel that a typically British sarcastic barb or aside is just around the corner, as if it was a sketch.
In the UK there are rules against advertisers on TV denigrating or discrediting rivals. The Apple ads have not yet been shown on British TV, but would they be allowed on air? It's pretty clear what (or who) "PC" represents, with his nerd chic, haircut and pie-charts. (Clue: Could it be the well-known, extremely well-heeled face of a PC-based operating system?)
But luckily for Apple, the term PC is so generic nowadays it would be hard to show that these adverts were denigrating a particular competitor. That might be an interesting matter for the advertising watchdogs to consider.
Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson
Add your comments using the form below.
MAC obviously earns a lot more money than PC - after all he can afford to buy a more expensive computer and all the mroe expensive software required it. But hey - hes acreative - wonder what PC does for a living. I have one of both - what does that make me?
trevor locke, Leicester
Seen some of the UK ads in the cinema recently and think they're great. I don't think the Mac comes across as smug at all, just friendly towards the stuffy PC!!
Amanda, Bristol, S Glos
My boyfriend recently bought a new Mac for us as our home computer. My sister saw these new adverts and asked me if I had seen them; adding, ''i bet you love them!''
The adverts may be a little harsh but all the points raised are true! Macs are a different class.
Kara, Essex, England
For the record the ads aren't the US versions reconstructed verbatim; get your facts right or look up verbatim in a dictionary. Watch 'Pie Charts", is it verbatim? Are any of the ads? They certainly follow a similar storyline but your journalism is getting sloppier by the day.
A Fowler, Tunbridge Wells, United Kingdom
I thought the casting of Mitchell and Webb was a stroke of genius. Two critically acclaimed comedians who have a cult following in this country. Followers of their comedy 'get' straight away that Mitchell is seen as un-cool and Webb is seen as cool. In my opinion they couldn't of cast this better.
Chris Harrison, Reading
As a Mac user myself, I'd rather see adverts which put in real terms what your average Joe would gain by switching to a Mac. Doing your rivals down (however humorous it may be) is something that politicians excel at and is probably one of the best ways to spread apathy and indifference on the subject.
Andy, Guildford, UK
Having seen all the UK & US ad's (i use a PC & a Mac) - i can safely say the US ones are good - they get the point across well - the UK ones are rubbish - a poor imitation of the original - they should have just used the US ones!
I found the Mitchell abd Webb ads funny at first but after being bombarded from every direction am more than a bit bored now..
I completely agree with Giles Wilson - it feels far too like a sketch and I think Apple may have miscalculated. And with out a doubt, the best version of these ads is the one Nintendo did for the Nintendo Wii against PS3 (although not sure what Apple have to say!)
Clair, N Ireland
Actually the Japanese ads aren't verbatim copies of the American ones (nor are the British ones, actually, they're much more subtle with the humour. But in Japan, where boasting about your abilities is seen as not very polite.
PC: Nice to meet you, I¿m a Pasocon (Personal Computer).
Mac: Nice to meet you, I¿m a Makku (Mac).
PC: Huh? But you are a Pasocon as well, right?
Mac: Well, everyone calls me ¿Makku¿.
PC: That seems to make you kind of special, like a friend.
Mac: Everyone uses me privately at home, maybe it¿s easier to become my friend.
PC: I see, I have only business-like acquaintances¿ I want to be called something special too.
Mac: Work acquaintances are your main thing so¿ how about Waaku (Work)?
PC: Makku¿ and Waaku! Makkuu!
See http://www.informationarchitects.jp/makku-and-pasocon for an analysis of the above translation.
Jonathan Baldwin, Dundee, UK
I agree that Mitchell and Webb are too well known (as their characters from the Peep Show). When i watched the ad for the first time, i thought that if you were like Mitchell/Mark - buy a PC, if you are like Webb/Jez - buy a Mac. It really doesn't persude me to buy a Mac nor think badly of a PC.
Mr Fernando, Glasgow
What you miss is the subtext - ALL PC characters - in whichever country's ads - look a little like Bill Gates, ALL the Mac characers are idealized version of Steve Jobs. Childish? Surely not....
nick may, Japan
I saw the first of the UK ad's show in the cinema last week, it just made me laugh I have used both PC's and MAC's at the moment I have a PC. I've also seen the US ad's floating around on youtube there quite funny but there not going to make me change from PC to MAC if/when I choose it will because I decide to rather then just to blokes are sat there chatting about it.
There's also a series of spoof Mac adverts kicking around on the net and Youtube that mock everything about the adverts. Out of the US, UK and spoof versions - the comedy ones win by a mile. Absolute genius!
Daniel Jackson, London
This article states that "In the US version at least, there's no overt smugness" before later quoting a US magazine as describing the Mac character as a "smug little twit". Which is it to be?
Me, Geneva, Switzerland
While the PC vs. Mac debate will no doubt rage on for years to come, the message that this series of advert puts out to consumers is 'Apple are trying too hard.' And I'm a PC guy - Macs are for people who like pretty desks.
Andrew Rainnie, London
I'm not so keen on the English reconstruction of the ads. I think that part of the appeal of the Macs is that they are American, and have a certain mystique and sexiness about them. Remember Jeff Goldblum doing the voiceovers for TV ads a couple of years ago? I'm not sure you get the same effect with a couple of blokes from Bermondsey...
Stuart, West Midlands
I think the article misses the point completely.
The ads are not trying to make nerds want to buy Macs, they're playing the image card to Ipod users and young people: you won't look cool if you use a PC. If PCs are to be replaced, Windows will go first to be replaced by Linux and all the Free applications it runs. 15-25 year olds will be decision makers in 5-10 years and they will buy what they're used to for their business. As for 'Watch Mitchell and Webb as Mac and PC' this is a way to make it sound like a cool thing too.
Thibault Jamme, Guildford
I like the US ads (haven't seen any of the others), and I own a Mac. However, the casting was a little unfortunate, since John Hodgemen is on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and he's hillarious, and well liked, so that doesn't really help Apple's cause. I think he was cast before he joined the daily show, but it's still unfortunate for them.
I saw the US versions of the adverts as they were released last year and thought they were brilliant. I can't understand why Apple didn't use the US adverts in the UK, I agree that the UK ones are a poor imitation of the originals. Mitchell and Webb have a cult following in the UK, but in turn probably have a large proportion of the country who 'don't get them', I'm one of them - everyone's different.
Ben, Reading, UK
The interesting thing in the States is that the PC character is more popular than the Mac character. So much so that the ads are perceived as having the opposite effect in the States, where the viewers like the PC bloke better.
The British ones with Mitchell and Webb are hilarious.
The Gaffer, West Palm Beach, USA
As a professional engineer I would like to consider my self as 'creative'. But go ahead, try producing a mainstream 3D CAD model for manufacture of some new gizmo (iphone for example) or a fluid dynamic analysis and see how far you get on a Mac. Take a serious industry standard engineering analysis software pacakge costing £30K+. Available on a Mac? - no chance! This might only be a question of porting software but the fact is since it isnt ported you cant use a Mac to ensure your airplane stays in the air or your sea wall defence wont collapse (to name just 2 examples). I like Macs but just because the media (and the BBC) use them in their dumbed down 'lightweight' computing applications the rather biased image they have is that they can do ALL the serious stuff as well. They really can't. In that sense the ad is hopelessly misleading.
Barry Fell, Liverpool, UK
I have seen these adverts on bus stops as i am driving, and i must admit, until i read this article i had assumed that they were for a new series of "Peep Show".
I am actually quite disappointed now
iain, high wycombe
The US ads are perfect. The casting is immaculate, especially the new one with the Vista "security guy".
Mike R, Devizes, UK
Where is the advert where PC asks MAC how many games he supports, which system is the most popular or which machine allows advanced configuration and therefore more personal customisation?
I agree with Charlie Brooker of the Guardian who said ?Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults?.
I love Macs (computers) but I don't like these adds. Don't get me wrong, they're wryly amusing but I hate negative advertising. So much good to be said about Macs on their own - why be negative about PC's? One good thing is that the BBC is acknowledging their existance which is a turn up for a very PC-centric organisation!
John Minard, Sheffield
The latest US commercial showing the PC's Vista security precautions in the form of a Secret Service type agent is just the funniest in the US series. I don't think the Mac says anything except a a bemused "whaaa??"
Steve Earl, London
These ads are ridiculous amd if you connect to MySpace you get them all the time. They are not funny and they do not make me want to buy a mac or a PC, just throw my computer out of the window. Get them out!
Webbs "Peep Show" character baggage doesn't lend well to Mac, but Mitchells TV ubiquity charcaterises PC.
They should just have some colourful plasticine to represent a mac, and lego to represent a PC.
Adge Cutler, Somerset
If I were to recreate the advert myself I would have Bill Gates as the PC and Harry Enfield (as Tim Nice But Dim) as the Mac. PC would tell people that only certain products allowed and Mac would comment on how pretty everything looks?
Neither side of the PC-Mac debate can exactly claim victory.
Nice idea, shame about the casting. David Mitchell is a cuddly god of humility and gentleness. Webb is (on the Peep show anyway, and that's what I was thinking about when watching the ad) a vacuous bully. And ginger. If they'd got Julian RT from Green Wing, that might've worked. He's even called Mac.
Louie Stowell, London
I absolutely loathe the US version of the Mac vs. PC campaign, though I do not have as much of a problem with the UK ones. Justin Long *is* a "smug little twit" in the US adverts and Webb, at least, isn't an early 20s college slacker faux hipster type.
I just wish the adverts were a little more accurate. PC should be a regular joe who, yes, likes office applications and a right-click mouse, but also likes a computer that doesn't cost more to fix than it would to replace, while Mac should be represented by the general market that can afford Macs: 20-somethings whose parents have too much money and allow them to sit around all day playing at being film directors.
Am I bitter? Yes - after a year of watching the US adverts then coming here and being hit with the same campaign in London! The ads are condescending and very selective - considering Macs in recent years switched to using the same image processor as PCs, they should't tout themselves as the superior model for graphic-based fields. And part of why they don't get viruses is that most software won't work on their system! The Mac vs. PC ads only add to the division between Mac and PC users and gives Mac users ammunition for why they are "cooler" than the other half.
Alexa, London, UK
I have seen these adverts (several times now) and I think that with Mitchell playing PC, it comes off looking better, somehow. Webb is fine as Mac, but there's something slightly funnier about the serious and unreliable PC, that makes him/it seem more charming.
Lucy, South Yorkshire, England
I think it is an effective marketing campaign, as I had heard of the ads before seeing them in the UK. Have a look at some of the fan made rip offs on Youtube. My favourite the PS3 vs. Wii one.
Rhys, Colwyn Bay, North Wales
I have seen some of the new Apple adds both online and at the local Cinema. In one advert it is clear that Apple is showing arrogance in regards to virus's and security stating that they are better than PC. Lets face it all computer are vulnerable even with the best of security. I use both Windows and Linux and find I can do just what i want on both of these systems. While Apple computers are easy to use to have great design I can see where a mac users arrogance comes from and it clear in these adverts.
Kelvin Bottle, Preston
I saw this advert and thought it was an advert for Mitchell and Webb! I had no idea that it was advertising something....
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