Oh, the humanity! The lesson of the PC v. Mac spots

Everyone remembers the funny “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads starring a casual hipster (the Mac) chatting with an oafish, overdressed businessman (the PC) about each product’s features. Invariably, the PC came off as stilted, outdated and boring while the Mac exuded effortless style and functionality—all the while assuring the PC gently that it was great too, making the poor computer seem an object of pity.

The point of the commercials was to put a face on each product and establish an emotional connection. Apple did make one mistake, though: The man playing the PC, humorist John Hodgman, was so good that many wound up making their emotional connection with him.

Microsoft fought the ads by launching the “I’m a PC” ads depicting farmers, brides and techies saying things like “I’m a PC” or “I don’t wear a suit.” When introducing Windows 7, the marketing catch phrase used was “Windows 7 was my idea.” And so, if Apple tried to attack features of the software, it would seem like they were attacking everyday people, not a product.

The lesson for a business leader is that humanity is not just a feel-good concept; it sells. It might be worth looking at everything from your product ads to your website to your company premises and asking yourself if customers are seeing real people behind what you’re selling, or just dry corporate stereotypes ripe for skewering.

— Adapted from Hard Goals: The Science of Extraordinary Achievement, Mark Murphy, McGraw Hill.

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