Microsoft's new TV ad whacks Apple over prices

It 'picked Apple's weakest point,' says analyst.

Microsoft Corp. Thursday night took a direct shot at its rival, Apple Inc., in a new television ad that pitched Windows PCs as lower priced than Macs.

The ad, the first in a new campaign dubbed "Laptop Hunters" and created by Microsoft's ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, follows a woman identified only as Lauren as she shops for a laptop. Lauren, who wanted a notebook with "speed, a comfortable keyboard and a 17-inch screen" for under US$1,000, was given the money and told she could keep whatever she didn't spend on the laptop.

After a quick trip to a Los Angeles Apple retail store, Lauren walks out, disappointed because the only system for under $1,000 sported only a 13-in. screen. Apple's only MacBook for less than $1,000 is the white-case MacBook, a holdover from the previous generation, which was largely superseded by the new unibody notebooks introduced in October 2008.

"I would have to double my budget, which isn't feasible," Lauren later says as she drives to a Best Buy to look at Windows laptops. "I'm just not cool enough to be a Mac person."

"This is effective advertisement, and I haven't seen many effective advertisements from Microsoft," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Inc. who covers Apple.

Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which also created the unusual, some called them "baffling," ads starring comedian Jerry Seinfeld and former CEO Bill Gates, recruited Lauren, and another prospective computer shopper that will be featured in coming ads, through Craigslist.

At the Best Buy, Lauren browses the notebook aisles, and finally settles on a Hewlett-Packard Co. system, a Pavilion DV7-1245DX for $699.

"This one has all my qualifications, I'm gonna buy this one," Lauren says as she points to the Pavilion. At the checkout, she crows: " I got everything for under $1,000!"

The ad debuted Thursday night on CBS during the network's broadcast of the NCAA basketball tournament, but clips can be found on the Internet, including YouTube.

"People are looking at price," said Stephen Baker, a retail analyst with The NPD Group Inc., when asked what he thought of the new ad. "Consumers today, unlike a year ago perhaps, don't care about value if value comes at an additional cost," said Baker. "And this ad highlights Microsoft's competitive advantage today. They highlighted the value proposition of Windows versus Mac."

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