Innovation

Microsoft iPhone parody ad pulled: Four lessons in comparative advertising

Yolanda Redrup /

When Apple launched its latest range of iPhones last week, Microsoft immediately tried, and failed, to get one back on its competitor.

Hours after the iPhone launch, Microsoft released an online ad parodying Apple’s latest phones and rumoured smartwatch device, the iWatch.

The ad tried hard to be humorous, but it was received poorly and many viewers commented on YouTube that it smelt of “desperation”.

This reaction prompted Microsoft to change the video’s YouTube setting to private before the day’s end.

To Microsoft’s likely dismay, this didn’t stop the video from going viral and it can still be freely found on YouTube.

The ad features two fake Apple employees in a hypothetical product meeting where they’re presenting to a man, who viewers assume was intended to be Apple chief executive Tim Cook, the new innovations in the latest iPhones.

The whole premise of the ad is based around criticising the low-end iPhone 5c for being made out of plastic and portrays Apple’s main innovation in the new iPhones as being its new range of colours.

Taboo strategy director Richard Hack told SmartCompany to be wary of the criticisms that could come from Apple “loyalists”.

“There has been a slew of slander and negative comments, but there is every chance it’s coming from Apple and iPhone loyalists,” he says.

“But the Microsoft ad did appear it was slapped together, rather than planned using with proper copywriters and talent.”

The tech giants’ well-established rivalry has long been expressed in ad form by both brands, but this time Microsoft admitted it’d missed the mark.

Providing a statement to The Next Web, Microsoft said: “The video was intended to be a light-hearted poke at our friends from Cupertino. But it was off the mark, and we’ve decided to pull it down.”

SmartCompany contacted Microsoft in Australia for further comment, but no one was available prior to publication.

Previously, Apple has targeted Microsoft in a similar way, with the PC and Mac advertisements making fun of Microsoft. These advertisements, however, were greeted favourably.

SmartCompany spoke to Richard Hack about the dangers of comparative advertising and tips on how to do it well.

1. Promoting a competitor’s product

Hack says as a business you need to be cautious of spending a lot of money effectively promoting another brand’s product.

“If you look at this example, they’re effectively promoting the iPhone,” he says.

“In this case they probably realised they would do this, and did not see it as a problem because of the high amount of publicity already. Microsoft also wanted to make sure they had a voice in the discussions as well.”

Hack says the advertisement has taken people’s attention away from Apple and redirected it towards Microsoft.

“It’s a good way to get Microsoft into the public consciousness.”

2. Have credentials

Hack says one reason Apple’s PC versus Mac commercials were effective were because at the time Apple had the “credentials” to show its product was superior.

“When Apple did it, Apple could genuinely actually go out there and say they were better,” he says.

“But unless your product and service is light-years ahead, it’s not a good tactic to play.”

3. Beware of slander

Hack says comparative advertising can work against a brand unless executed well.

“Being coy, you can come off as a brand which thinks you’re the top gun. The tone of the ad is really important,” he says.

“If you’re going to say you’re so much better, and actually make an ad about it, you can turn off current customers because you can be seen as arrogant. When Apple first did it, it wasn’t arrogant because they mastered the tongue and cheek tone.”

Hack says many consumers see these ads as being in bad taste.

4. Invest in quality

Hack says for these ads to be effective, a brand needs to spend time, money and effort perfecting the tone and quality of the commercial.

“Planning is definitely important. This is an example of just how important quality creative is. You need to have the right copywriting to create a good script and find the best talent,” he says.

“Comparative advertising is a tactic you don’t see too often from the big brands because it’s hard to execute and easy to come unstuck.”

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