Apple's "Get a Mac" Campaign
Always a branding powerhouse, Apple is a company whose television advertisements are usually excellent. Their recent Get a Mac campaign ("Hi, I'm a Mac / And I'm a PC") certainly does not disappoint. At this point, the television commercial are very well known.
The campaign exemplifies the artfully clever use of "framing," the selective control of information used to shape a viewer's perception. A simple example is the term "tax relief." If you have an anti-taxation agenda, "tax relief" is a much more powerful term than "tax cut" because it frames taxes as a burden from which people need relief. The term assumes its own premise and thereby frames our perception.
In the "Get a Mac" campaign, Apple frames an artificial dualism, and then re-enforces the dualism with powerful metaphors. The dualism frames two options: either you use a PC (understood to mean Windows) or a Mac. Those are your options.
To force the viewer's decision, Apple uses the extremely dry-witted John Hodgman play the part of the PC as a bland-looking, frumpy businessman. They contrast Hodgman with a relaxed, young hipster-type in the role of the Mac. On seeing the commercial, it's clear which guy you would rather be like. The archetypal roles portraying Mac and PC ring true to real life experience, which cleverly enforces the dualism Apple is pushing.
Kudo's to Apple. The campaign is nothing short of brilliant advertising. It's seemingly simple, and it's fun and witty. It also sets up an understanding of the difference between Macs and PC's that people readily accept.
Linux Riffs on the Theme
What with the popularity of the "Get a Mac" campaign, the inevitable spoofs are numerous. However, Apple's advertising agency has created a veritable fortress of metaphor with these advertisements. The archetypes seem so accurate that it's hard to get past the inherent truthiness of the original commercials. Most spoof attempts that I have seen have been pretty weak.
Linux as Tron? Too dorkyNaturally, various members of the Linux community have attempted to insert Linux into the original concept. After all, it is clear that Apple means "Windows" when they say "PC," so how would Linux fit in this arena? Despite many attempts, I have yet to see one that really makes Linux actually look good.
One popular spoof shows Linux in a Tron costume. But this re-inforces the idea that Linux is strictly for nerdy bit-heads. And even though I myself may have nerdy bit-head tendencies, I don't think that having such an archetype for Linux is the best way to advance the broader acceptance of Linux (or of free software in general).
Is there a right way to bust apart the challenging fortress of metaphor that Apple has created with the "Get a Mac" campaign? With such a powerful dichotomy between the Mac and PC archetypes, is it even possible to insert Linux and have it come out on top?
To answer that question, I think we have to set aside how Linux may be perceived today and consider how we want Linux to be perceived. Too few people know that Linux even exists, and those that do often think that a Linux desktop is strictly for geeks. That stereotype is increasingly less accurate. Through the past couple of years, we have seen desktop Linux become increasingly more appealing. I won't pretend to speak for Linux users everywhere (well, at least not this time), but personally I want people to think of Linux as the option that they really want. That means that Linux needs to be seen as appealing, confident and competent. Even-dare I say it?-sexy.
Novell's Spoof Attempt
For Novell's BrainShare conference this week, we decided to take a risk at trying to produce three videos that riff on the original campaign. I say its a risk because the "Get a Mac" campaign is starting to feel cliché. Perhaps even fatigued. But the risk of doing something that is already tired is nothing compared to getting the character for Linux right.
The problem with a well-established dualism like the Mac-PC one is that anything you try to add will seem like a third wheel. With a casual hipster dude playing the Mac and a stuffy public accountant-type playing PC, there doesn't seem to be much room to insert Linux and have it come out on top. How do you break apart Apple's seemingly unassailable dualism and re-frame the concept in favor of Linux?
Novell videographer Russ Dastrup, my colleague Clint Carroll, and I worked the concept over and over. What kind of guy should play Linux? How would the guy seem anything other than just some other dork when he's pitted against the infernal coolness of the Mac character?
So we decided to turn the concept on its head. Why should the character have to be a dude? Aren't we just re-inforcing stereotypes about the IT industry? There are too few women in technology, and they seldom get represented well. Additionally, what better way to set Apple's two archetypes off balance? Face them with a confident and attractive woman, and suddenly they both look like hapless dorks. Mac's appeal over PC vanishes and he becomes a kind of pathetic-looking slouch.
To make it work, we chose an actress who could be confident, but not overbearing or threatening. She is very attractive, yet still wholesome rather than too sultry. (We wanted sexy, but we did not want to wreck the concept by overdoing it.) And like Linux, she's young, friendly, independent, and smart.
We also went for what I like to call "the Code Monkey Factor." Code Monkey is Jonathan Coulton's brilliant song about a downtrodden software developer who wistfully daydreams about the pretty receptionist at his office. Since there's getting completely around how Information Technology is still largely male dominated, we wanted an actress who would not seem utterly unattainable. Instead, we wanted shot for an attractive woman that most guys would think they might have a chance at. (We asked her to remove the engagement ring for the filming.)
All in all, it's a balance that we hope to have struck right: representing Linux as sexy and confident, while avoiding sexual cliches that are degrading to women. While there may be some flaws in our execution (particularly how the third video throws out the people as computers metaphor altogether), overall I really hope that we managed to create a playful spoof that effectively subverts the "Mac vs Windows" framework that Apple has established with the "Get a Mac" campaign.