Inside the Mix

Apple's iMac, and its marketing, is elegant, but it might not be enough to lure PC users

Apple's iMac, and its marketing, is elegant, but it might not be enough to lure PC users

There are two kinds of people: Apple addicts and everyone else.

Apple addicts tend to be so more by nature than by nurture. For many, a Mac was the first computer they used, and they've devoutly stuck to the brand.

Fewer seem to be later-life converts from Windows. It's not so much a question of brand loyalty; it's more of a sense of what value - and values - people want for their money.

When the iPod came along in late 2001, Apple's unmissable product PR was amplified by the widespread debate about music downloading, and PC users were shown that Apple was not just a computer manufacturer, but also an entertainment company. They were rewarded in July 2002, when Apple opened up the platform to Windows users, and for the first time, a PC user could buy, integrate, and grow to love an Apple product.

The launch two weeks ago of Apple's new iMac, a minimalist slab of white plastic starting at $1,299 that looks like the iPod's big brother, was a concerted attempt to harness this newfound love of Apple's products. "Wow, iPod makes computers? I have to have one!" is pretty much the desired reaction.

Apple is making no bones about the fact that it hopes iPod users will be drawn to the iMac. Many promotional pictures depict the fraternal twins side by side. At the iMac's Paris unveiling, it was the iPod that filled the screen first. The launch phrase was, "From the creators of the iPod: The new iMac G5." That's quite something, for a computer company to launch a variation of its core product on the back of a non-core one.

Apple is using the product design as an integral part of the marketing mix, just as important as any launch advertising or PR work. The design is not just generating word-of-mouth buzz for its elegance and innovation, it's cultivating a back-door relationship between Windows iPod users and Apple's computers.

Well, that's the plan. But what's missing is what iPod offered: a lifestyle change. Frank Grubich, visual creative officer at Maddock Douglas, a Chicago ad agency specializing in packaging and product design, is skeptical that the iMac will convert Windows iPod users. "I can see those who've fallen for iPod and took on that lifestyle being a bit more open to this," he says, "but we'll see if it really has any inroads into the personal computing world. The iPod is about portability. It was a whole lifestyle change. This doesn't yet feel like one."

The iPod grew through envy and word-of-mouth. The ubiquity of the white ear buds was backed up by media coverage depicting its lifestyle-changing properties, making even diehard PC users overcome one of the biggest barriers to Apple ownership: the high price point. The iPod's success didn't happen overnight, but the extreme innovation of the product was the foundation that its excellent marketing needed. With the new iMac, beautiful, clever, and, to iPod fans, familiar as it is, Apple's elegant design and marketing savvy might not be enough to recreate that success. The iMac does not reinvent a category, and most Windows users are of the opinion that $1,299-worth of PC can get you a lot more than a pretty box.

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