Too cool to use Windows, too cheap to buy a Mac

Microsoft's new anti-Apple ad campaign is already working -- but possibly not in the way it was intended.

[Note: This blog post was delayed due to technical difficulties. Management would like to apologize for the delay and assure faithful readers that those responsible are being thoroughly spanked.]

The Windows/Mac holy wars are back with a vengeance.

As you may recall, last week Steve “The Mad” Ballmer declared that the only difference between an Apple Macintosh and a Windows PC is a $500 logo. What seemed to be yet another bout of Ballmer's persistent Tourette's turns out to be a cunning marketing ploy, designed to set the stage for a fusillade of new Microsoft commercials playing off the “not cool/just cheap” theme.

It seems Microsoft's ad agency put anonymous ads on Craigslist and other Web sites seeking participants in “market research” on laptops. They picked 10 lucky volunteers, gave them budgets ranging from $700 to $2,000, and sent them shopping for laptops with various criteria. If they found a machine that matched their specs and budget, they got to keep it.

The first ad based on this dubious premise appeared last night, and if the intent was to get the blogosphere talking about it -- and getting people to watch it online -- then it succeeded in spades.

It stars a spunky, cute-but-seemingly-attainable redhead named "Lauren" [video] who proclaims to be looking for a machine “with a comfortable keyboard and a 17-inch screen” for under $1,000.

Her first stop: The Apple Store, which she calls “the Mac Store.” Only we never get to see what Lauren finds at “the Mac Store” because the very next scene shows her walking out empty-handed, saying the only laptop she could find under $1,000 had a 13-inch screen.

Then, in her car, she delivers the million-dollar line: “I'm just not cool enough to be a Mac person.”

Amazingly, she has far better luck at her next stop, a Best Buy that apparently has no qualms about letting a camera crew follow the bouncing Lauren all around the store. Her luck is much better there, finding a 17-inch HP laptop for the low, low price of $699.99. (And, of course, she is thrilled right out of her Birkenstocks.)

Well, there you go. That's all the proof you need that only someone with more money than sense would buy a Mac. Right?

Well, not exactly. You'll find more rats here than on a sinking ship, starting with who came up with that buying criteria, what Lauren found inside the Apple store (and why we weren't allowed to see it), who really conjured up that “I'm not cool enough” line, and the fact that Lauren – when not working as an office manager or playing an unwitting Microsoft shill – is also an actress with a SAG card.

Predictably, the Apple blogboyz had multiple litters of kittens. Computerworld blogger Seth Weintraub details at length what a craptop Lauren ended up getting, noting its slow processor, abysmal screen, 2.5-hour battery life, ancient networking tech, and 8-pound bulk.

Macworld's Aayush Anya says, essentially, "we're rubber and you're glue":

Microsoft's backhand shot at "coolness" is just trying to reinforce the view that Mac users are simply stuck-up snobs who pay too much attention to such mundane things as how good a computer looks — but I think it might just come across as an admission of inferiority to the casual observer.

Venturebeat's MG Siegler notes that Apple probably wouldn't want Lauren as a customer in any case. It doesn't do low end, and it doesn't need to sell a gazillion machines “with comfortable keyboards” to make a profit.

Even PC World's Nick Mediati piles on:

So, Microsoft, if this is the message you're pushing -- that your prospective customers "aren't cool enough" to own a Mac, what does this make your users? Losers?

Still, I think Apple should hire “Lauren” – she is an actress after all – and show us how much she likes her cheap Windows PC after a month or two. Maybe shoot some footage of her wrestling with Vista or dealing with tech support. Let's see how spunky and adorable she is then.

Remember, this is just the first commercial. There may be nine more just like it. So brace yourselves – we could be in for a bumpy few weeks.

Are you not cool enough for Macs? Are Windows machines for luzers? Is anyone else besides me tired of this endless debate? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me: cringe (at) infoworld (dot) com.

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