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Could Microsoft's Apple-Jabbing Ads Backfire?

Microsoft partners are glad Microsoft is finally calling out Apple directly in its latest television ads, but Apple partners believe the ads will help Apple more than they will benefit Microsoft.

Microsoft dusted off one of its favorite Apple arguments this week, rolling out new television and Web ads which claim that PCs are cheaper than Macs and offer a broader range of configuration options.

Microsoft's channel partners love the ads -- and, as it turns out, so do many Apple partners, albeit for different reasons.

To summarize, the television ad shows a young woman who's flummoxed by the lack of sub-$1000 computers on offer at her local Apple Store, but who finds an inspiring plenitude of much cheaper Windows-based PC options at her local retailer.

The Web ad invites visitors to spin a slot machine wheel that shows different combinations for what a certain amount of money will get you, once again to show that PCs are cheaper than Macs.

Microsoft has been pounding home the 'PCs are cheaper' point for years, and the economic situation certainly has more consumers paying attention to price when buying computers. But while it's hardly surprising that Apple partners think the Microsoft ads are pretty hokey, several told Channelweb.com they believe the ads will actually benefit Apple more than they will Microsoft.

"It certainly looks like a lazy campaign in which the primary focus is on price instead of value," said Brian Georges, co-owner of MacMedia, an Avondale, Ariz.-based Apple reseller. "Despite the challenging economy, consumers want value, and that's where Microsoft could be hurt in this."

"Many PC users have fallen for the 'big spec sheet, low price' trap, and these ads totally bring Apple into the conversation when computer users are making their purchasing decision," said John Strikwerda, retail manager at Carbon Computing, a Kitchener, Ontario-based Apple reseller.

In Strikwerda's view, Microsoft's message is full of obtuse reasoning and relies on apples-to-oranges comparisons. "The ironic thing is that Microsoft doesn't even make computers," he said. "And if they want to talk about price, how about comparing the price of Microsoft Office to Apple's iWork, or the complete version of Windows versus OS X?"

Michael Oh, founder and president of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple partner, likens the television ad to taking someone to a BMW dealer and asking them to find a car for under $20,000. "Microsoft is drawing out this comparison, but what ends up happening is the ads highlight the value that Macs bring to the table even more," he said.

NEXT: What Microsoft partners think...


Unsurprisingly, Microsoft solution providers don't see things the same way. They're delighted that Microsoft has finally come out with an advertising direction that attacks Apple in the same way that Apple has been beating up Microsoft for years in its 'I'm a PC, I'm a Mac' campaign.

"As a Microsoft partner, we've been frustrated for years at the fact that Apple openly flaunted Microsoft technology, and Microsoft didn't respond," said Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based solution provider ITSynergy.

Tim Huckaby, CEO of InterKnowlogy, a Microsoft Gold partner in Carlsbad, Calif., calls the new television ad "brilliant" and would like Microsoft to continue to roll out future ones in the same vein. "Microsoft is building the Windows and PC brands at the expense of Apple, the king of brand identity, and that helps us," he said.

Microsoft has moved away from the direction it had traced last year with its bizarre ads featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, and that's a promising development, according to solution providers. Microsoft's subsequent "I'm a PC" spots showed improvement, as did its recent round of ads showing children using various Windows Live offerings, but focusing on price is exactly the message many VARs want to see Microsoft sending.

"They are finally pointing out one of the main drawbacks of having a Mac," Said Cocanower. "At some point, you have to ask yourself: If Apple is such a great platform, why do they only have a small share of the market?"

"The facts are the facts, and in a tough economy it makes sense to lead end users to the best quality for their dollar, and that's by far a Windows based system," said Steve Maser, vice president of product development and marketing at Seneca Data, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based system builder.

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