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It's not just presidential campaigns and baseball pennant races that are heating up right now. If you happened to catch Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) new televised ad over the weekend, you know that the Mac Daddy is taking no prisoners in its approach to tripping up Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) .
The commercial features John "I'm a PC" Hodgman sitting at a desk in full accountant regalia. He's separating a ton of money, with a huge pile earmarked for advertising. It dwarfs the significantly smaller "fix Vista" stack.
When Justin "I'm a Mac" Long suggests that the smaller pile isn't going to be enough to fix Vista's problems, Hodgman's character concedes. He pushes the small "fix Vista" stack into the larger advertising pile.
It's a brutal and arguably brilliant counter to Microsoft's recent $300 million marketing blitz. In one swift punch below the belt, Apple practically neutralizes the once seemingly effective brand-polishing Microsoft campaign.
Attack ads are all part of the electoral process
"Hello," begins a Microsoft engineer posing as a doughy Hodgman. "I'm a PC, and I've been turned into a stereotype."
Anyone who has turned on a television set over the past month has seen the Microsoft spots. Showcasing a wide array of PC users, the ads dispute the nerdy portrayal of an inept Microsoft that Apple has been championing.
Microsoft took a long time to put up its dukes, but doing so now is only making Apple punch harder. Another new Apple ad pokes fun at Microsoft's decision to name the new operating system Windows 7. Hodgman cuts Long off whenever he tries to say Vista.
"We don't say the V word anymore," he explains. "It doesn't sit well with frustrated PC users."
Ouch! Vista's viability is certainly open to debate. The publicized perceptions may be negative, but Vista certainly has its share of backers and believers. One has to wonder if Microsoft's operating system would be faring better if Apple wasn't there to knock it down every time it tries to stand up, but who do you blame for that: Apple for taking the opportunistic shots, or Microsoft for being slow to swing back?
Fight back, Microsoft
Apple has been able to foster a culture of young hipsters who are flocking to its wares like trick-or-treaters to a house handing out chocolate bars. Apple has become the "good candy" house. Whether Apple's Macs have earned the premium or it's just "the halo effect" of the iPod's crossover appeal, Apple is growing quickly, and it's not just hurting Microsoft.
Computer makers like Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) that put out Windows-propelled desktops and laptops are feeling the pinch. Microsoft isn't the only one losing when Apple takes its whacks.
It can't afford to let Apple jab below the belt. If it does, Apple will be able to portray next year's likely release of Windows 7 as a continuation of Vista. If that happens, how much do you want to bet that we're here next year, discussing Microsoft's plans to rush out Windows 8?
No. Wait. Microsoft can't go "aspirational" or numerical if it falters again. It will be down to using the one card in its pocket that rock bands resort to as the final straw in their relevant careers: the self-titled Windows.
If Microsoft has to go eponymous, this game is over. So what is it waiting for?
Don't forget to vote
Apple has momentum right now. It has gained market share in the PC market in 14 of the past 15 quarters. It also has the advantage of not being the only one attacking the format in control.
Cloud computing solutions like salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Google Docs are making operating systems less relevant when everything is served up from the Web. Software specialists like Red Hat (NYSE: RHT ) are making the open source Linux more approachable as a rival operating system. Even the once loyal Dell has now shifted allegiance, offering entry-level netbooks powered by the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system alongside its Microsoft-fueled offerings.
Microsoft was quick to pull the Jerry Seinfeld ads. It was smart to make PC users appear worldly and cool. Now it has to call out its attacker. Even if directly acknowledging Apple validates the competition, looking away will be interpreted as a sign of surrender.
Apple is now closing in on a third of the domestic retail market share in terms of computing system revenue.
It can't be ignored. For the love of logic, Microsoft, don't let it come down to going eponymous.
Marketing mantras on parade right here: