The Psychology of Mac versus PC

The Mac versus PC commercials have been playing on television in North America and elsewhere for quite some time. They are very engaging. Many people stop whatever they are doing to watch them. If you have not seen them, check out Mac versus PC on YouTube. They pose a challenge to Microsoft Windows and merchants of PC technology because they clearly and amusingly demonstrate the drawbacks for using a Windows operating system versus the Mac system. But why are they so powerful? What patterns do they use to get and keep your attention?

The commercials feature two characters. One, the PC, is a man in a beige business suit and tie, wearing glasses and an outdated haircut. He is geeky and basically, uncool. The other character, Mac is a youthful good-looking, friendly, and cool guy. Every 30 second commercial focuses on a problem with the PC operating system highlighted while the Mac character stands by, shrugs because he does not suffer from the same issues.

In the early commercials the Mac got to hold the hand of the Sony girl with all of the beautiful accessories while the PC didn’t speak her language. When Microsoft introduced Vista another character appeared. It was Vista security system personified by a menacing man resembling the stereotypical CIA agent who interrupted to ask “confirm or deny” to each statement or action the PC character wanted to make. A more recent one ridicules the introduction of Windows 7 by doing a flashback in time to all the promises to fix problems that PC made with each new version of Windows.

The obvious appeal to the commercials is their whack at Microsoft. Who doesn’t like seeing a giant fall off the beanstalk (unless you are underneath it!)? But there is more to their success at a deeper, below conscious level. If we examine them using psycho-linguistics, the commercials contain language and visual patterns which trigger the motivation of most viewers and this is why they are so successful.

The Language and Behavior Profile (LAB Profile) can explain exactly what attracts so many people to the commercials. My first book, Words That Change Minds describes this tool. The LAB Profile enables you to understand language and visual patterns that affect how people get motivated and what makes them take action. Most people are unaware of these patterns as they operate at a below-conscious level. When a communication such as a television commercial, matches the key patterns of particular target groups, they can have a huge impact on motivating and getting people to do things.

Here are the LAB Profile Patterns at play in the Mac versus PC commercials:

Away From: Language and images used to indicate a problem or situation to be avoided, fixed or solved. Anything that shows something that you want not want is “Away From”. The language and images move away from something. The PC character represents the things people detest about the PC; problems to be avoided!

Options: Any language and images promoting choice, variety, alternatives or breaking the rules. The Mac character represents a “better choice” than the problem-ridden PC and appeals to people who like alternatives.

Procedures: A step by step approach with a clear beginning, middle and end. These commercials are procedural since they have a clear story with this structure. Each one has characters and a plot.

Internal: Internals are people who want to make up their own mind and are difficult to influence.

External: When people become External, outside factors and people have a big impact. They care about what others think of them and may follow the crowd.

Thing: Language and images referring to objects ideas, data… things.

Person: Language and images about people, relationships using their names.

Since these LAB Profile Patterns operate outside normal awareness, they have the power to influence how we think and what we do. The LAB Profile can help you convince people in one-on-one communication and help you reach large groups in mass communication.

In the Mac versus PC commercials the use, (intentional or unintentional) of the above Patterns motivate very distinct groups of people who use computers. Mac users tend to be attracted to the idea that they are different from ordinary mortals. These are the people who like to color outside the lines, and believe they are creative. They want variety and options, alternatives to the plain Jane mainstream technology.

PC users prefer to have a Procedural approach when using their computers. They want a standard step by step procedure when using technology. They want to continue using the procedure they are accustomed to using.(This does not mean that they want this in all areas of their lives, simply when they are using technology.)

Why do the commercials attract both PC and Mac users?

The commercials promote an alternative to the ubiquitous PC, therefore they have an LAB Profile Options quality — attracting people who are likely to already own a Mac (or to have wanted one for a while). This is like speaking to the choir, preaching to the converted. Maybe they will succeed at getting Mac users to buy the latest version. But look at the sales figures. Non Mac users are buying in droves!

According to, Mac sales went through the roof in 2008:

  •  50% of Macs sold at Apple retail stores are to those who are first time Mac purchasers
  • Able to achieve 2007 revenue levels in Q1 08- Q3 08
  • Increased US PC share from single digits to 18 percent of unit sales.
  • One out of every 3 dollars spent in US retail computer sales is spent on a Mac
  • 39 percent notebook share in US higher education (higher than Dell)
  • 400,000 visitors a day at Apple retail stores reported in July 2009, 9 out of every 10 personal computers purchased worth over $1000 were Macs.

The secret is partially in the story! Commercials with characters and a plot appeal to the Procedural PC user. When you add in the other elements that make it universal you have the irresistible appeal to action for just about anybody:

Away From: The commercials put a finger on all the issues that drive PC users crazy! Error messages, having to reboot, viruses, unwieldy software….. Yuck!

Person and Thing Patterns: Whether you feel empathy for people or just want the facts; these advertisements are for you.

Internal and External Patterns: The commercials use the “universal close” that makes sales people drool. No one overtly tells you what to do, you draw your own conclusion – that appeals to Internals, and yet it is clear from the commercials that droves of people are converting to Mac, so the Externals are influenced by that.

All this happens in about 30 seconds. Most people are only aware that they just like the ads. And then the sales go up. It is not clear if the creative minds behind the Mac versus PC commercials are knowledgeable about the LAB Profile, but they could be. If you want to find out more about how people get motivated and why they do what they do, check out my books:

Words That Change Minds: Mastering the Language of Influence and my brand new second book:

The Customer is Bothering Me. How to Change Attitudes, Improve Results and Grow the Bottom Line.

Please let me know what you think! [email protected]

Shelle Rose Charvet

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15 thoughts on “The Psychology of Mac versus PC

  1. Sue Beever

    Back to meta programs:

    Regarding the Mac vs PC ads, I suggest the additional use of the Sameness preference as follows:

    People with Sameness preference don’t want what they perceive as the hassle of taking on all the new and different learning associated with swapping to the Mac. In the ads we saw (albeit briefly), the “Mac” character always appeared pretty “samey”, VA and K: same clothes, posture, low key, low energy presentation etc. Hence playing to the Sameness preference. Meanwhile, it was the “PC” character who was all over the place, having to do something different every time to compensate for lack of function.

    Great to meet you Shelle at NLP Conference in London last weekend. Having studied meta programs for my Master Practitioner with Fran and Derek at the Northern school of NLP, it was a fab refresher to see them in action in the examples you gave us.

    May our paths cross again soon,
    Best wishes

    Sue Beever

  2. Charles Tutt

    I think if Mac had as many users AND as many nerds trying to hack their OS as the PC does, they too would have similar problems.

    As a user of both systems, I find the PC to be much more business friendly with tons more applications available. Apple had the early shot at industry domination and blew it by catering to the education and artsy niche and ignoring more practical, useful applications and broader markets.

  3. Jay Arthur

    I think if we profiled Mac users, they would be revolutionary achievers (difference + toward).
    I think one of the limitations of the Mac commercials is the preponderance of away-from language and not enough toward language.

    I think if we profiled PC users, they would be more evolutionary (improvement) with a mix of toward/away styles.
    They might even include the traditionalists (sameness) who refuse to change. (Some Mac users are sameness as well.)

    The LAB profile shows that revolutionaries only account for 30% of the population. Evolutionaries are 65%. Traditionalists are 5%. Apple has a long way to go to eclipse Microsoft. The real revolutionaries are moving toward open source systems like Linix and Open Office. It will be interesting to see who wins.

    As someone who provides software for both markets, Windows 7 beats Vista by a mile and is a lot faster than XP and backward compatible with earlier software. The Mac is still slower than I think it should be. And every time Mac upgrades their OS, all of your applications quit working. Microsoft should hammer that concept home.

  4. Shawn

    Hi Shelle,

    Great article! I agree with Rachel’s comment. Both would be wise to hire you for both advertising, hiring and more! I would challenge you to go deeper in your analysis. I’ve worked for Microsoft and non-Microsoft shops. Given the amount of PCs there are in business and in homes, and the cheaper costs of PCs (despite the problems) how much market penetration does Mac really have and can have? And will we see a different competitor do something? I like the commercials, my sense is that they may help with some people on the divide of deciding which to buy. Many people I know that have switched to a Mac find many of the same learning challenges and confusions (backups, file formats, etc.). I’m still thinking that the commercials are doing more for brand awareness than actual sales volume, but I have nothing to back that up. Cheers! :0)

  5. Bob Clarke

    Hi Shelle,

    Great article, I love those great commercials too.

    I understand that most of the top copy writers are very familiar with NLP, and that means they must also be familiar with your book, Words That Change Minds, and the lab profile. So there is no doubt in my mind that they are using these processes intentionally, and doing a great job with it.

    I think the obvious pace, pace lead system – or – hey, that’s me, that’s exactly what’s been happening to me, connection is the great grabber.

    And then the heavy move away from the pain of the PC to the pleasure of the MAC is the clincher. Especially since MAC showed there was no fear in switching, colapsing the fear anchor the PC people had been building upon over the years.

    Your book, Words That Change Minds, is always referenced and displayed at all our live trainings. And that reminds me, I have to send an email to all our online training students and recommend it to them too.

    Keep up the great work Shelle.

    The dynamic Duo

    Bob & Ronda

  6. Nancy Klepper

    Shelle, I am sitting in a classroom at the end of Day 1 of a two day “WTCM Working Traits” session and I just saw your article, and your timing is perfect! I take my participants through various “WTCM Challenges” in an attempt to review the patterns in a fun way so I can see if they’re “getting it” or not. One of the challenges includes a viewing of two of the MAC vs. PC commercials! Now I can also give them a copy of this article – so thanks for the reinforcement!!

    As info (in case others are interested) I also include two other YouTube videos. One is the newest Amtrak commercial (Away From flying), and the fourth one is an old scene from “Five Easy Pieces,” a classic clip where a young Jack Nicholson is trying to (unsuccessfully!) get a waitress to “break the rules” so he can order something not specifically on the menu. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    Thanks and regards,

  7. Steven Saunders

    Hi Shelle,

    yes you have the nice line of metaprogramming arguments. and …

    Underlying all of the mac-pc is something I call “the truth” – IMO, microsoft cannot write ergonomic software, their OS is littered with virus potential, their OS is not secure, due to the underlying basis of a poor choice of model, called “DLL”‘s. So anyone in the know would have only bought macs on the economics of business efficiency even if the price appears larger: mac+iworks versus pc+office+antivirus+anti-spy, time lost in antivirus activity, other time losses, and the pure frustration of how bad the MS product is. Frankly I’m amazed that microsoft ever lasted as long as it did. Eventually the worm turns.

    Similarly, the old NLP models are built upon sand; the deeper models developed and proven through the 4G NLP over the last few years will take a long time to replace the faulty OS of NLP, but the discerning early adopters have and will continue to move across! 😉

    best wishes


  8. Rachel Hott

    I enjoy you analysis, and I believe both PC and Mac would be smart to hire you. I doubt that their sales force know about the meta program patterns but I am convinced that they would want to learn about them. Thanks always for your creative and energetic flair.

    Rachel Hott

  9. Sue Brinsley

    Hi Shelle – me again. Just had a look at some of the ads on You Tube, as I haven’t seen them on UK TV (maybe my viewing pattern not lack of the ads). Amazing – I don’t think they once did any ‘telling’, so it’s brilliant for the Internals. Everyone I know has a rant about problems with PCs, and the ads make the viewer feel no longer alone about their frustrations, their views are acceptable and shared by many others. So Externals can feel OK about changing as well. I experienced it myself … it was quite liberating seeing many of the things I complain about expressed in the ad! And as for Away From – well, what more needs to be said! It’s got to be the major pattern of this particular market.

    And it’s all so calm, handing over all the thinking to the viewer. An amazing example of APPARENTLY low pressure selling which is extremely persuasive.

    Cheers … Sue

  10. Britta Heintzen

    Great article! I had attended your 1/2 day workshop in Montreal and this example really hits home the key concepts.
    I must say it is our favourite commercial and many times my daughter (who bought a Mac) says “see mum” that’s like your problems with your PC. You should get a mac.” The commercial gets the audience speaking and validating the message again.

    I have listened to your audio of Words that change minds! Excellent material!

    Keep the examples coming… very interesting.


  11. Christiene M. de Vries

    Hello dear Shelle,

    In Holland I haven’t seen these great commercials of Mac vs PC yet. So I looked on You Tube.
    They are really fantastic and the Mac-guy could be a Dutch guy, I would say.
    I have read your overview of patterns and could recognise completely what you explained. So wonderful.
    I also noticed a very sub-consious attraction (other then the Mac-guy’s looks)
    To me it seems that the voice and use of words of the Mac-person, has more Kinesthetic elements and draws people to their feelings to make sense, where people measure their decisions -yes/no-. Where the voice and use of words of the PC-person seems to draws more to the auditory senses.
    I would say this is also a very strong sub-consious lead. Would you agree?

    You should ask Mac for some fee for distributing their commercial. 🙂
    I looked at all of them on You Tube.

    Thanks Shelle. Besides your wisdom, you always bring fun and humor.

    Lots of love and hugs
    Christiene M. de Vries
    (Alter Vision – NL)

  12. Sue Brinsley

    Hi Shelle … Just to let you know I’m still around and still using LAB. We spend the winter months running our chalet in the French Alps, and the rest of the year doing a mixture of training work and playing golf in England! I use the LAB stuff all the time in my training, whether it’s covertly for myself in my delivery or overtly teaching the patterns in personal development programmes. In fact details about your book were written up on my flip on a course just yesterday!

    Re. the PC/MAC – It’s good to get reminders of how it works out there in the big world. I enjoy having my awareness being refreshed about just how powerful – and yet simple! – it is.

    Warm regards from Mike and myself,
    Sue Brinsley


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