Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Apple’s highly successful and long running television commercials, featuring John Hodgeman as “I’m a PC” and Justin Long as “I’m a Mac” have their basis in cartoon history.
Can you say Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote? That tried and true formula shows up clearly in Apple’s television commercials as Apple vs. Microsoft.
The Three Stooges never got much respect for their slapstick comedy. Instead, we laughed, and watched. It’s formula comedy.
A similar formula was started by Warner Brothers’ animation director Chuck Jones with Wile E. Coyote (the Coyote) and the Road Runner back in 1948. That same formula is shared in Apple’s successful television commercials with Hodgeman and Long.
What’s the formula? According to Jones, there are basic rules to follow. Road Runner is benign, only says “beep, beep” and cannot harm the Coyote.
The harm that comes to the Coyote is of his own making or that of his products of choice, all from Acme, which always fail, sooner or later.
The Road Runner always stays on the road, steady, sure, unfazed by the baffling disasters around him.
Compare that to Justin Long’s “I’m a Mac” character who remains mostly benign, pleasant, affable, never threatening.
In the cartoon’s, all the action takes place in America’s southwest desert. In the television commercials, all the action takes place on a white background.
The Coyote is mostly humiliated by his ineptness, though sometimes harmed, not seriously. Compare that to John Hodgeman’s “I’m a PC” character who is often humiliated, seldom harmed by his own ineptness, or the failures of his chosen tools—the PC.
As benign as Road Runner (Justin Long) remains in each cartoon, the viewers sympathy always goes to the Coyote (John Hodgeman).
Where does Microsoft fit in? It’s subtle, but obvious. Acme is Microsoft. Those who use Microsoft products on their PCs are, of course, in some kind of constant suffering mode—just like the Coyote with his string of continually failing Acme tools and products.
We sympathize with the Coyote and likewise with “I’m a PC” John Hodgman. Subtly, we learn that Acme products (Microsoft) are inferior and should be avoided.
The similarities are more than striking. Apple has kept the formula alive and reaped the benefits of perpetuating Windows Vista’s shortcomings, while making the Mac appear competent, unthreatening, pleasant, all without saying so.
The proof, they say, is in the taste of the pudding. Apple is selling more Macs to Windows PC users than ever before in the company’s history. There are many reasons why, of course, including the iPod halo effect.
One reason is the formula Apple uses in the television commercials.