The Mac Ads
I don't think I've ever agreed with Slate's Seth Stevenson who writes "Ad Report Card", so his analysis of the new Apple ads doesn't much surprise me. But he's wrong again.
My problem with these ads begins with the casting. As the Mac character, Justin Long (who was in the forgettable movie Dodgeball and the forgettabler TV show Ed) is just the sort of unshaven, hoodie-wearing, hands-in-pockets hipster we've always imagined when picturing a Mac enthusiast. He's perfect. Too perfect. It's like Apple is parodying its own image while also cementing it. If the idea was to reach out to new types of consumers (the kind who aren't already evangelizing for Macs), they ought to have used a different type of actor.
Meanwhile, the PC is played by John Hodgman—contributor to The Daily Show and This American Life, host of an amusing lecture series, and all-around dry-wit extraordinaire. Even as he plays the chump in these Apple spots, his humor and likability are evident. (Look at that hilariously perfect pratfall he pulls off in the spot titled "Viruses.") The ads pose a seemingly obvious question—would you rather be the laid-back young dude or the portly old dweeb?—but I found myself consistently giving the "wrong" answer: I'd much sooner associate myself with Hodgman than with Long.
The writing may have something to do with this, too. Hodgman gets all the laugh lines! And Mr. Mac comes off as a smug little twit, who (in the spot titled "WSJ") just happens to carry around a newspaper that has a great review of himself inside. (Even Norman Mailer usually refrains from such crassness.)
Justin Long is supposed to seem like the "typical" Mac user. John Hodgman is supposed to seem like the geeky PC. The viewer gets that they're working with stereotypes; every person watching with any sense of the difference would immediately know which one was which even if they didn't introduce myself. Which is precisely what the ad is working with - yes, Macs have this image, Apple acknowledges, but let's go beyond that; they then discuss the actual benefits of Apple products. Even people who see themselves as Hodgmans can benefit. Both guys have to be thoroughly likable, and I think the ad succeeds.
Mr. Mac doesn't come off as a smug little twit; he comes off as a guy who really wants to be kind to Mr. PC, trying to spare his feelings and hide the praise the Macs get over the PCs. And, in the "Network" ad, they all hold hands and Mac tries to work with PC.
But you know what? I bet a lot of hetero guys aren't going to like it because they hate pretty boys, like Stevenson. Tha's the only explanation - these ads are cute!