Case Study: Apple Switch Ad Campaign

By June 2002, after 18 months of new products that included the eMac, OS X operating system, G4 processor, iPod, and new flat-screen monitor, Apple Computer, Inc., still held only 5 percent of the U.S. market and between 2 and 3 percent of the worldwide market in personal computers. Apple’s proprietary lock on technology in the 1980s had forced hardware manufacturers like Dell, Gateway, and Compaq to avoid Apple software and to ship their PCs with Microsoft’s operating system. Apple isolated itself from the masses even more with its 1997 ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign, which associated the brand with revolutionary figures like Mahatma Gandhi and John Lennon. It was to attract a broader range of computer users that Apple launched its ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign in 2002.

With the cost estimated at $75 million, the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign was executed by Apple’s longtime partner and marketing firm TBWA\Chiat\Day (TBWA\C\D). Using print, television, and the company’s website, the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign began with Apple’s requests for testimonials from its loyal customer base. After receiving more than 1,000 submissions, TBWA\C\D hired the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris to create 32 television spots that featured people ad-libbing their reasons for switching from the Windows based PC to Apple. Hoping to connect with a wide demographic, the ‘‘Switchers’’ spots starred common people like a network administrator, a lawyer, an illustrator, a small-business owner, a programmer, and a DJ. The first spot aired on June 10, 2002. Early indicators led Apple to believe that the campaign was helping to capture business from the Windows market. In the second half of 2002, for example, 4 of 10 Mac purchases in Apple stores were made by first-time owners. Despite early successes and a few impressive ad accolades, including Adweek ’s 2002 Campaign of the Year Award, there was little improvement in Apple’s market share. Brandweek noted that the research firms Gartner Dataquest and IDC showed Apple’s worldwide market share unchanged in October 2003, after the campaign had ended.

Apple Switch Ad Campaign

Historical Context of Apple Switch Ad Campaign

In 1997 Apple launched its $100 million ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign, which joined images of cultural icons like Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein, and Pablo Picasso to the Apple brand. The effort backfired on Apple, however, by pigeonholing the company as part of a small community of writers, photographers, educators, and graphic designers. By 2002 the tech industry’s slump was also affecting Apple, which lost money in the first fiscal quarter of that year. Despite industry trends in 2002, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the company planned to ‘‘innovate our way through the downturn’’ by developing new hardware and software, along with opening 51 Apple stores throughout the United States.

In the weeks preceding the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign Jobs told Adweek, ‘‘We’re going after the ninety-five out of 100 people not using Macs.’’ The opening of new Apple stores also was meant to play a major role in the forthcoming campaign by giving consumers a place to purchase Apple computers. Because of contractual disagreements between Apple and retailers, many Apple products were not available at larger stores. Apple supposedly stopped allowing Best Buy to sell iMacs, for example, after the company resisted stocking the regulated range of colors that Apple insisted upon. Sears and CompUSA had similar fallouts with Apple. Increasing the number of Apple stores would allow the company to sell its own products on its own terms.

‘‘We’ve been giving people a ton of compelling reasons to switch to a Mac,’’ Jobs told USA Today. ‘‘We’ve got 10,000 people writing to us to say, ‘I’ve switched,’ but people have lots of questions. We decided that to get people over their concerns, they should hear from people just like them.’’

Target of Apple Switch Ad Campaign

The 1997 ‘‘Think Different’’ Campaign was widely criticized for excluding the average computer user by targeting what Therese Poletti of the San Jose Mercury News called ‘‘radical thinkers such as Albert Einstein, John Lennon and other rebellious, creative types.’’ It was for this reason that TBWA\C\D aimed the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign at Windows users, the 95 percent of computer users who fell outside Apple’s market share. It was also important, Jobs emphasized to TBWA\C\D, to target the Windows user who wanted a Mac but who feared that switching to one would discombobulate his or her digital life. ‘‘There are a lot more people out there that use Windows computers than no computers, so that’s a very rich target for us,’’ Jobs told the Wall Street Journal. ‘‘For those thinking of switching to the Mac, we’d like to help that process along.’’ For the ads TBWA\C\D and director Morris used mostly ordinary consumers who were accustomed to Windows, people such as a network administrator, an illustrator, a small-business owner, and a programmer. Jobs also wanted to dispel the myth that Apple was only for consumers who had never used a computer before. When USA Today ’s Ad Track polled consumers on their reaction to the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign, the most favorable response was from 30- to 39-year-olds, 23 percent of whom liked the ads. The worst response came from 18- to 24-year-olds, with 47 percent disliking them.


In 2001 Microsoft, the antagonist of the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign, was the biggest threat to Apple, with a staggering 93 percent of all operating systems for personal computers. Although some analysts favored the stability of the Mac’s UNIX-based operating system, others valued the wider product selection offered by Microsoft.

John Torro of the Saint Petersburg Times wrote, ‘‘Windows XP supports about 12,000 device and software drivers. The Mac? Probably a fraction of that. What that means is you have more flexibility if you want to upgrade or change your computer. The PC world is wide open; Apple dictates the Mac world.’’ Apple did, however, outshine Microsoft in advertising. To counter the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign, Microsoft’s website featured stories and photos of ‘‘real people’’ who had left Macintosh for Windows. When it was later revealed that the Microsoft photos were stock images and that the stories had been written by a marketing team, Microsoft’s antics were widely criticized.

In PC hardware Hewlett-Packard, after merging with Compaq, was the worldwide leader, with 16.1 percent of the market in 2002. The company’s share was slipping, however, to Dell, which held 15.7 percent worldwide and an even greater percentage in the United States. Dell was praised by advertising aficionados for its clear vision of the product it was advertising. Mike Dell, founder and CEO, spent his efforts solely pushing Dell PCs and the company’s ‘‘just-in-time’’ manufacturing. By 2005 Dell, with 16.9 percent of the worldwide market for PCs, had become the leader. ‘‘Dell has a lot of momentum. It grew at rates above 24 percent, year over year,’’ said Loren Loverde, an analyst with IDC. ‘‘HP is doing well relative to its merger issues, and it also means that we could have a pretty close race . . . for a number of quarters.’’

Marketing Strategy

Jobs attended the showing of Errol Morris’s short film The Academy Awards Movie, which played at the 2002 Academy Awards. Later, in response to the film, Jobs was quoted as saying, ‘‘This guy has to do the new Apple campaign.’’ But Apple had considered Morris to direct the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign even before the 2002 Oscars.

Before Morris began work on the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign, Apple requested stories, through, from people who had switched from Windows to Apple. After selecting 60 replies from thousands of submissions, Morris and his team spent 10 days interviewing candidates in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Morris set the camera behind a half-silvered mirror, on which he projected his face. He called the invention, which allowed him to make eye contact with the person being interviewed, an Interrotron.

Looking into the camera lens ‘‘is the very opposite of conversation,’’ Morris said in Adweek. ‘‘Interrotron is a way of having your cake and eating it too.’’ During the filming TBWA\C\D representatives gave Morris details about each interviewee. None of the 32 commercials that were created were scripted. ‘‘Steve [Jobs] did much of the deciding; he was the impartial jury. The ones who made it were the most believable,’’ Lee Clow, chief creative officer at TBWA\C\D, told Adweek. ‘‘We also made a conscious effort to avoid choosing [those who might be perceived as] ‘Apple people.’’’ In addition to the ordinary people featured in the ‘‘Switchers’’ ads, four celebrities–actor-comedian Will Ferrell, skateboarder Tony Hawk, musician Yo-Yo Ma, and surfer Kelly Slater–made appearances. Most of the ads, however, featured people like a programmer, lawyer, disc jockey, or software projects manager. One featured a student, Ellen Feiss, who stood before a white screen while she explained her frustrations with Windows: ‘‘I was writing a paper on the PC, and it was, like, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. And then, like, half of my paper was gone. And I was, like . . . heh. It devoured my paper. It was a really good paper. And then I had to do it again and I had to do it fast so it wasn’t as good. It’s kind of a . . . bummer.’’

The ‘‘Switchers’’ spot with Aaron Adams, a Windows network administrator, which Adweek deemed the campaign’s most poignant, helped TBWA\C\D earn the publication’s honor as Best Campaign of 2002. In the spot Adams said, ‘‘I’m a Windows guy who’s changed to Macintosh. I deal with Windows all day and when I’m tired of fighting with that, I come home to a Macintosh that works. I haven’t found anything I can do with a PC that I cannot do with my Mac.’’

The ‘‘Switchers’’ spots first aired on June 10, 2002, on cable networks such as ESPN, CNBC, and Comedy Central and then appeared on ABC and NBC. Print ads appeared during the same month in magazines like Time and Newsweek. Even though Jobs denied animosity between Apple and Microsoft, ‘‘Switchers’’ ads in Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and the New Yorker boasted that Windows ‘‘has made a good business out of copying the innovative Mac.’’ Both print and television advertisements directed the audience to Switch, where the company posted reasons for switching to the Mac, along with positive press reports to reinforce the message.


Errol Morris, the director of the ‘‘Switchers’’ television spots, also worked with Michael Williams to create The Fog of War, which won the 2003 Academy Award as the best documentary feature. The film consisted of Morris asking Robert S. McNamara, former U.S. secretary of defense, candid questions about his involvement with the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and the initial U.S. deployments in Vietnam. The well-crafted documentary allowed McNamara to explain his views on the morality of war through his ‘‘Eleven lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara.’’ For The Fog of War Morris used techniques similar to those of the ‘‘Switchers’’ commercials, including the patented Interrotron and the shouting of questions at the interviewee during the filming.

Outcome of Apple Switch Ad Campaign

The ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign did little to increase Apple’s market share, which was its main objective. Over the lifetime of the campaign Apple’s worldwide share remained at a meager 2 to 3 percent. Sales in Apple stores did, however, increase during the campaign, bringing in $163 million during the second half of 2002. According to USA Today, 4 of 10 of the buyers had never owned a Mac before. The ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign also earned awards from the ad industry, including Adweek’s Campaign of the Year Award for 2002. The ‘‘Switchers’’ spot with Feiss was named Best Performance in Adweek ’s 2003 Maddy Awards.

Part of the problem, according to analysts, was that, even though the ‘‘Switchers’’ stars were real people, their perceptions of Apple computers were false. Most ‘‘Switchers’’ spokespersons boasted of Mac’s advantages over Windows, such as a more stable operating system and a more intuitive functionality. As Torro wrote in the Saint Petersburg Times, ‘‘If Mac users are going to tell you that their operating system never has problems, I have some land to sell you about 20 miles out in the gulf. I’ve heard many stories about Macs getting ‘the bomb’ (the Mac version of a Windows general protection fault).’’ Apple’s PowerBook 5300 was earlier dubbed by some journalists as the ‘‘hindenbook’’ for its tendency to burst into flames.

When the ‘‘Switchers’’ campaign was launched in 2002, Apple still had enough capital to float through the industry slump of the decade’s early years. In June 2002 Jobs stated, ‘‘Apple and Dell are the only two making money in the industry right now. It’s a tough business now. But I’m an optimist. I think things will get better.’’ By 2004 Apple had shifted its advertising priorities to the wildly successful iPod, which earned an incredible $1.2 billion during the first quarter of 2005 alone.

Reference: Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns. Thomas Riggs

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