By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
March 28, 2009

Her name is “Lauren” and she’s making the Apple (AAPL) guys nuts.

She’s the young, hip, Volkswagen-driving redhead who stars in the latest Microsoft’s (MSFT) TV campaign. Told that if she can find a 17-inch laptop for under $1,000 she can keep it, Lauren ends up — to the Mac aficionados’ dismay — with an HP (HPQ) running Windows Vista.

“I would have to double my budget, which isn’t feasible,” Lauren says as she drives away from an Apple Store, where 17-inch notebooks start at $2,799. Then she sighs and delivers the ad’s coup de grace: “I’m just not cool enough to be a Mac person.”

Ouch.

The ad first aired Thursday night, and the Apple press has been taking pot shots at it ever since. Among the complaints:

  • “Lauren” is an actress, not the ordinary American shopper the ad claims
  • The Apple Store scene was faked; before-and-after photos suggest that she never actually went into the store to try the computers
  • The $699 HP Pavilion dv7 she chose over a $999 MacBook is a mess. “It is the epitome of what people dislike about PCs,” writes Computerworld‘s Seth Weintraub. “It runs Vista Home on a slow AMD mobile processor … its screen is abysmal … its networking is five years old … it is loaded with crapware and trial antivirus software that will have to be purchased or wiped off the machine.” (link)

One Gizmodo reader even offered to give Lauren his old 17-inch Powerbook so she could do a comparison without worrying about cost. “I do believe,” writes Mitch Gewirtz, “everyone on this planet is ‘cool enough to be a Mac person’.” (link)

Crispin Porter + Boguksy, the agency that produced the ad, has clearly hit a nerve. The campaign goes directly at what may be Apple’ biggest vulnerability: the growing differential between Macs, which have largely held their prices throughout the recession, and PCs running Windows, which have been engaged in a brutal price war that forced the industry’s ASP (average selling price) down more than 13% in the last quarter of 2008 alone. (See here.)

“Apple, right now, is a fine-tuned machine that targets specific audiences,” writes VentureBeat’s MG Siegler. “It doesn’t care about selling a 17-inch laptop for under $1,000, because those machines have nowhere near the profit margins of the machines it does sell.” (link)

Perhaps most thoughtful analysis of what makes the ad so effective — and so infuriating to Mac users — was provided by Fox News’ Clayton Morris, who devoted nearly 9 minutes of air time to a discussion of the spot by a panel that included SquareSpace’s Anthony Casalena and Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky.

Topolsky is especially trenchant. “This is almost a red-state-blue-state ad,” he says. Not only does it hammer home the issue of cost, but it embeds that message in a subtle bit of Apple bashing. “‘I’m not cool enough’ is so pejorative, says Topolsky. “This is the stigma of the Mac user as a pompous jerk.” (link)

The ad is on heavy prime-time rotation, but in case you missed it, we’ve pasted the YouTube version below the fold:

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