Attack Ads, Not Just for Politicians

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1984 Apple's Macintosh Commercial

Apple Attack

Political attack ads have a long history, but so do high-tech attack ads. For example, who can forget Apple's "1984" ad aired during the 1984 Super Bowl? Now the stuff of cultural legend, the ad came at time when PC and IBM were synonymous--when most people thought of computers as business tools beyond the reach of individual users. With "1984," Apple tried to shatter the image of the PC as an exclusive tool of the pin-striped set.

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Get a Mac ad with Gisele Bundchen

Mac Attack

Apple has done a masterful job of launching ads that put a relative shine on its products by tarnishing those of its competitors. Its long running "Get A Mac" campaign (ended in May 2009) is a case in point. Apple's old whipping boy, the guy in the suit, is back for more punishment. This time, though, he represents Microsoft and its Windows operating system instead of IBM. Apple's alter ego in the ads is the cool guy. In commercial after commercial, the cool guy reveals how much fun it is to use a Mac while Mr. Suit touts the PC frumpy dignity with disastrous results. One of the high watermarks of the campaign was this ad, involving the two protagonists and Gisele Bundchen, which has drawn more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.

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Laptop Hunters $1000 - Lauren gets an HP Pavillion

Blitz on the MacBook

Good campaigners know that when your opponent targets you with an attack ad, you don't just turn the other cheek--you return in kind. Unfortunately, Microsoft's efforts at turning the tables on Apple weren't terribly impressive, until it launched its "Laptop Hunters" campaign.Apple's products, along with their cachet of being "cool," have always carried a premium price. Microsoft struck at both of these vulnerabilities in "Laptop Hunters." The commercials focus on budget shoppers who want to get the most "bang" for their buck in a laptop. After comparing prices, they always conclude that they're not cool enough to buy a Mac. That doesn't matter, of course, because they can get everything they want and pay less for it with a PC.

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New Kindle pool ad

The Amazon Assault

When you prosper by the attack ad, you can expect to get skewered by it, too. A good example is Amazon's recent sly jab at Apple's iPad. Prior to airing its "By the Pool" ad, Amazon had taken pains to distinguish its e-book reader, the Kindle, from Apple's tablet. The products had different purposes, Amazon's marketers reasoned, and different audiences. But those considerations didn't deter Amazon from releasing this slap ad in September trumpeting two advantages that the Kindle has over the iPad: easy reading in direct sunlight and a lower price tag.

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The Sony Offensive

One reason that attack ads flourish is fear of encroachment. If you're a major player in a market and an upstart enters the picture and starts gobbling up market share like Pac-man, you may respond by attempting to put the interloper in its place by siccing an attack ad on it. Sony watched this type situation develop with Apple, as the iPhone became increasingly powerful in the mobile game market. So the maker of PSP decided to hit Apple with a slight that would sting a company built on cool, with this ad.

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Going after Google

The motto "Do No Evil" is hardly a shield against attack ads. Sure enough, a group called Consumer Watchdog took umbrage at Google Analytics' methods of collecting information (notably through tracking cookies) and decided to respond. Though cookies allow Websites to identify visitors, the tracking devices aren't as sinister as this advocacy group, which, by the way, uses cookies at its Website, makes them out to be. But in the attack ad game cautious moderation is no virtue, which explains Consumer Watchdog's decision to depict Google CEO Eric Schmidt as exploiting children.

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Anti - piracy parody ad

Kill 'em With Laughs

In the YouTube age, anyone can produce an ad attacking a high-technology subject. Take piracy, for example. When Hollywood isn't taking people to court for pirating movies, it's producing scary commercials whose purpose is to deter people from pirating movies. Before the advent of online video, such bullying tactics commonly went unchallenged. But now consumers can fight back with attack parodies like this one.

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iPad

Death By Sarcasm

Consumer gadflies don't limit the focus of their attacks to companies' use of scare tactics. They also target marketing decisions and whatever else piques their ire. When Apple released the iPad, for example, many observers immediately drew a connection between the new tablet and what marketers delicately refer to as feminine hygiene products. Inevitably, mockery ensues.

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