22.6.06. Ads - Debugging Matters, and Out of the Box

Terrific targeted advertising: The current ad that appears on the main page for Sci-Fi channel’s excellent new Battlestar Galactica series is for Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2005.

The ad? It just says “Cylons. Why debugging matters.”

I think that’s the first good ad I’ve seen placed by Microsoft in a long time. For those unfamiliar with Battlestar Galactica, especially the new series, the basic premise is "The Cylons were originally created by man. They evolved. They rebelled." The miniseries that brought the story back to the air (in a much more rich and intelligent flavor than the old series, which had a good idea but had poor execution and network interference) starts with the near annihilation of the human race in a massive coordinated Cylon attack. Yeah, debugging matters. Great placement. Although, of course, you could see variations on this for Terminator: "SkyNet. Why debugging matters." And for The Matrix. Which is not to say that Galactica is anything like those series (I think the nearest it could be compared to is Bladerunner). Just that someday, these robots will come back and kill us all. Sony's cute little QRIO has its own emotions and can express them in different ways, including changing eye color. You just know one night you're going to wake up and see this cute little robot at the foot of the bed staring at you with those red eyes... And then you'll never wake up again...

Sorry, off track.

While on the concept of ads, I’ve been enjoying one of the latest from Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign. The commercial is Out of the Box and features the Mac and PC in their boxes talking about what they’re going to do. If you haven’t seen this series, they follow the sparse white backgrounds and straight-on shots of the older “Switch” commercials (and, in fact, most of Apple’s modern non-iPod commercials). Instead of the “real people” stories that were the center of “Switch”, “Get a Mac” features a humanized PC and Mac. The PC is played by John Hodgman (now a Daily Show staple), and the Mac by Justin Long (an actor in “Dodgeball”, which is a movie I unexpectedly fell in love with).

In Out of the Box, the PC and Mac are sitting in boxes - the PC’s is plain brown, the Mac’s is plain white. They introduce themselves as they do in every commercial - “Hi, I’m a Mac” “And I’m a PC”. The Mac starts getting out of his box and says “ready to get started?” to which the PC responds “well, not quite… what’s your big plan?” The Mac sits and says “well, I might make a movie, create a web site, try out my built in camera.. I can do it all right out of the box. So what about you?” The PC responds with “well first I got to download those new drivers and then erase all the trial software that came on my hard drive…”

The ad ends with the Mac getting out of the box and leaving frame while the PC says “actually I can’t go yet… the rest of me is in other boxes.”

Now this is a great ad. It’s short, funny, and quite charming. While the content of the ads is competitively aggressive, the PC and Mac are quite nice to each other (in one ad the Mac even says that the PC is great at business). Overall the series is doing a good job, in very short segments, of highlighting the cultural differences. Some ads play up to the “if you like the iPod or iTunes, we’ve got even more of that!” message, while others cover other differences. This one, however, I particularly enjoyed.

We recently purchased a new Dell machine at the office to run accounting software. A few days later, there is still a cadre of boxes in our lobby with CDs scattered everywhere. The machine is installed, and it installed fairly quickly. But what I remember most is how much my boss kept yelling at all of the trial software, and how much time he spent un-installing things. “Something new pops up every time!”

I imagine that this is how Dell and the like can offer their machines for such low prices. They stuff it with all sorts of trial software - often very annoying trial software (it bugs you more than it helps you) - which is just more advertising, basically, subsidizing the lower cost.

It’s amazing. I have a windows machine at my desk that I use on occasion (it’s actually been off for a couple of months), and I hated having to restart it because there were so many little balloons and bubbles that kept popping up for the first few minutes. “I did this” “You should upgrade to this” “Buy this” “Your machine is at risk - upgrade to the full version of bla bla antivirus for $79.95 today!” and on and on. Half of these interrupts were modal, taking away focus from what I was trying to get back to doing. Part of me is amazed that this passes as OK in the Windows world, but part of me looks at advertising today (and through time) and realizes that it’s just the norm of our society.

I always get entertained at list once during local coverage of the Utah Jazz at all of the little inserts that get slipped in, and how casually the announcer puts it in. Granted, a lot of these same games are being simulcast on radio (some games are only broadcast on radio), so perhaps it makes a bit more sense. But it’s just things like “Malone drives it up the floor and it’s knocked out of bounds. This portion of the game is brought to you by Bla Bla Bla, reminding you that it’s always a good time to Bla bla” or “brought to you by Bla Bla. Come down and see the professionals at Bla Bla, quality service guaranteed. Stockton takes it inbound…”

It’s all around us.

Anyways, I just found the Out of the Box commercial funny, having watched someone just recently go through the experience of spending his time removing all this junk software before he could set the machine up to do its actual job. It’s not like the Mac is devoid of trial software - a .Mac trial period is pimped, trials for both Apple’s iWork and Microsoft’s Office are also on board. But to my recollection, no bubbles ever popped up and interrupted my work telling me to use / install / upgrade either of those. In fact, I didn’t even notice they were on my new iBook. They didn’t hinder performance any, and - most importantly - never got in the way. Dragging them to the trash was all that was needed when I did notice they were there.

So, good ad, sells the point well. I’ve been impressed with how well all of my Macs have worked out of the box - even discovering that a new laptop had a decent charge in its battery when it arrived!