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Friday, July 10, 2009

PC versus Mac

"Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people."
David Sarnoff

Sadly, this quote seems to ring true of Crispin’s new work for Microsoft Windows. It seems their run as the hottest advertising agency has come to an abrupt end. I will admit that this is not a blog topic I had ever intended writing on but the more I am forced to see Microsoft’s new TV campaign aimed at making Windows “cool” again, the more I cringe and the more I feel compelled to break my silence.

My pain first started with Windows’ answer to Apple’s ‘Hello I’m a Mac’ campaign, which personified the PC and Mac cleverly using humor, even if it did represent the actual facts in shall we say, a rather liberal manner. But the “I am a PC” campaign that ensued as a fight back had neither humor, nor wit and only served to make me cower in shame at every new PC user it identified; or more appropriately one that I would rather not want to be identified with. I don’t know about you, but it seemed to have quite the opposite effect on me – I was seriously considering switching to Mac or at the very least lying about being a PC in public. Many words come to mind when I think of Deepak Chopra, spiritual, healthy living and Guru are a few of them but ‘Cool’ is certainly not one of them. Besides, I have always felt that taking a bunch of really famous people and getting them to simply admit that they use your product smacks of defensiveness and desperation not confidence and cool. And then there was the Seinfeld and Gates advertisement. Take it from a career ad man that screwing up a commercial with the ability to feature both Jerry and Bill Gates takes a lot of hard work and a serious lack of talent. Thankfully, someone at Microsoft no doubt saw their dominant market share rapidly decline in the near future, along with the current fear and embarrassment in many PC user eyes and put the kibosh on that bit of wasted Eastman Kodak film and then they came up with something completely different.

On winning the Microsoft Windows business, Crispin’s CEO said, “There was a time when it was Avis against Hertz, Coke against Pepsi, and Visa against American Express. I think Microsoft is at the epicenter of the great brand challenge of the next decade - or millennium.” Based on this quote alone, forget Crispin’s recent track record, I was rather hopeful that the first campaign was merely a rough pitch placeholder, even if soulless and creatively void. A momentary lapse of advertising reason, a blip on the path to the sublime, as it were, while Crispin was hard at work on the real campaign, which like ’The Burger King’, would make Microsoft's operating system King of computer cool.

Alas, it was not to be, as the “I am a PC’ campaign was replaced after a brief interlude with a really confusing advertisement about some ‘Mohave Dessert Experiment’ (which I thought was a reminder about how we must be careful not to let our PC’s overheat, to prevent the batteries from catching fire and exploding again) by an even more soulless and mind numbing ‘$1,000 PC shopping challenge’. So the whole point of this campaign is to proudly proclaim to the world that if you pay someone $1,000 cash to buy a PC, for up to or under a $1,000, they will end up buying a PC for up to or under a $1,000…Pray, someone please tell me, am I getting this right? Ok, so maybe I am being a little facetious but was ‘bribery’ the most interesting and imaginative way to inform less than 10% of the world’s non-Windows using population that PC’s offer a range of features at under $1,000…it also tells me that Mac users are willing to pay more for their machines, and don’t even need to get any cash in return.

The reality is that my wife’s Mac has crashed far more often than my PC. I even have Windows Vista, Microsoft’s biggest OS failure to date, and still have a less frustrating time with freezing screens and involuntary shut downs than she does on her Mac. Also, it’s a myth that Mac’s are immune to viruses. Global market share data for 2008 put PC’s at 90.73% and Mac at 8.03% and this is the reason why hackers spend countless hours devising nasty viruses for PC’s and not for Mac’s – lack of impact. At less than 9% global share, it would cause little to no disruption in the general population and virtually no chaos in the corporate world. And have you ever tried playing 3-D or Internet games on a Mac – there is a reason why most gamers use a PC.

I am not planning to list a long and laborious set of comparisons here but my point is that if in the space of 5-10 minutes and a few clicks on Ask (I don’t use that other search engine) I found some interesting things to say about my PC, versus a Mac. Then why, with a $300 million ad budget and countless creative superstars at their disposal, was a highly paid agency unable to find even ONE single remotely compelling or evocative reason to buy a PC?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tears, Fears and Smears; The GOP Story

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalised and cruelly mocked, but it cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered.”
Morton Kondrake

I have never been a big soap opera fan but it’s hard not to get drawn into the almost daily drama unfolding in the ranks of the highest profile members of the Grand Old Party. They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and I would argue that this already transpired during the Bush era. The price they paid was losing Congress, the Senate, the majority of Governorships and the Presidency. So having paid a heavy price for their wanderings in the Bush years, one would think the Republicans would be regrouping, and coalescing far away from the public eye trying to formulate a new strategy for 2012 – so what is going on with the endless trials and tribulations of their leading cast members?

Let’s start by taking a look at their brightest star from 2008, Sarah Palin. In the last few months, Ms. Palin has most definitely been in the forefront of the news. She has been firing missives back at her critics with alarming regularity but sadly none have anything remotely to do with the challenges facing the nation or with matters concerning public policy. And they have not been debated in the pages of The New York Times or The National Review but played out in People Magazine and the National Enquirer. The Palin and Levi family feud started with the very public breakup of her 17 year old daughter and Johnston Levi, the father of her child. Then, instead of learning her lesson Ms. Palin continued on to another public spat with David Letterman, a late night comedy show host. Granted Mr. Letterman’s comments were in poor taste but, even after he apologized the Governor of Alaska continued to drag herself into the mud and humor him. Not funny. As for becoming Queen of the White House in 2012, I am not so sure she has won any confidence from her few supporters leave alone her many detractors, but 2009 Queen of the Tabloids – Ms. Palin wins hands down.

Then there’s the crying Governor from South Carolina, another promising GOP Presidential candidate for 2012. Mark Sanford says he is an honest, God-fearing, bottom-line kind of guy. He also happens to be the guy who has been cheating on his wife for the past year and lied to his aides and staff, almost creating a crisis of leadership in his state with his five day disappearance. He actually said, “What I did was wrong, period. I spent the last five days crying in Argentina.” Perhaps it would have been more fitting if, instead of shedding tears while coming clean, he had sung a farewell tribute to all of his constituents:
“Don’t cry for me South Carolina. The truth is I never left you,
All through my wild hikes, and my mad disappearance;
I kept my promise, but had to keep my distance…”

I really hope for his sake that the road to the White House is paved with good intentions. But then again this is America and maybe all he needed to say was: “I did have sexual relations with that woman.”

Up next, the great brown hope of the GOP, Piyush Jindal or Bobby as we now know him. The man Rush Limbaugh has touted as ‘the next Ronald Reagan’. The Republican Party proudly advertises him as the first Indian-American Governor and hopes he will begin to attract a less white crowd to its base, even as he publicly decries his brown roots. Identity crisis aside, I must admit that I liked what I heard from him last year before he came out, in a manner of speaking, as a Republican up-and-comer. He sounded like a balanced and pragmatic man, even if he is socially conservative. However, in his first real test of leadership in the national eye, as the opposition’s rebuttal to Obama’s first address to Congress, his performance left a lot to be desired. It was not just awkward, but made Sarah Palin’s performance with Katie Couric look masterful in comparison. However, the bigger issue I had was with what he said. He had lost all the things that I liked about his perspective and viewpoint and sounded like a tired, superficial, contrived and insincere old Republican lapdog.

Finally, let’s talk about Eric Cantor, the Minority Whip, who is being touted as one of their next generation of leaders. Forget that this man was front and center supporting Cheney’s claims on Sunday news shows in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. He said of Iraq and Al Qaeda that, “really they're one and the same.” The issue I have with this man dates back to September, 2008 when the Bush-Paulson $700billion financial bailout package failed in the House because the majority of Republicans voted against it. Instead of simply accepting responsibility for the failure to garner the required votes within his party, as the Minority Whip, he blamed Nancy Pelosi and the speech she made a few minutes before the votes were cast. He said: "There is a reason that this vote failed - and that is Speaker Pelosi's speech.” Suggesting that he had the votes needed, but a dozen grown men from his party all changed their minds after hearing pathetic Pelosi's words. Leaders are made of sterner stuff in my book, and real men accept responsibility and move forward. Erik Cantor is clearly neither; and if he is the GOP’s idea of a new leadership, then God help them.

The sad truth is that the only loud voices you really hear from within the Republican Party today are from their players from yester-year, the ones like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney who just refuse to go away and continue their reckless fear mongering. They have nothing worthwhile to say and no new perspective to add to the national debate, other than offering the same old tired rhetoric of Obama’s drive toward Socialism. Frankly, the only breath of fresh air is the man who had to publicly apologise to Rush Limbaugh; the Chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. While by no means an intellectual heavy-weight, he has at least been trying to inject some flavor and freshness to the party’s tired old white image, and has succeeded only in becoming a laughing stock within his own party’s base faster than Karl Rove can creep out Meghan McCain on Twitter. Sadly, I have no clue what the Republican Party stands for today. They are allowing themselves to be defined by the Democrats, who clearly have a spring in their step and bounce in their stride, thanks to Mr. Obama. Meanwhile, the Republicans seem only to have a tremble in their voice and a limp in their walk, thanks to Mr. Bush.

At this rate, a Limbaugh/Cheney ticket might turn out to be their only in option 2012, or then again maybe the Republicans have it right after all - to just sit back and continue doing what they are not doing and wait for the Democrats to screw it all up and hand it back on a platter; just like the Republicans did before them…