Microsoft Undeterred by Alleged Legal Threat From Apple

Case Could Have Legs, but 'Laptop Hunters' Will Keep Going and Going for Now

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NEW YORK ( -- In the latest twist in the computer wars, Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner stated publicly yesterday that attorneys for Apple demanded Microsoft pull its "Laptop Hunters" campaign that shows buyers comparing prices between Macs and PCs. And Apple's keeping quiet on the subject.

Microsoft's 'Laptop Hunters' campaign paints rival Apple as pricey.
Microsoft's 'Laptop Hunters' campaign paints rival Apple as pricey.
The campaign, created by Microsoft's consumer ad agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, began running in March and marked a new ad strategy from the software giant: painting rival Apple as pricey. By some measures, the ads have been successful in boosting Microsoft's "value perception."

"The 'PC Hunter' ads, the 'PC Rookie' ads clearly have been winners in the marketplace," said Mr. Turner, speaking at the software giant's worldwide partner conference in New Orleans yesterday. "And you know why I know they're working? Because two weeks ago we got a call from the Apple legal department saying, 'Hey' -- this is a true story -- saying, 'Hey, you need to stop running those ads -- we lowered our prices.' They took like $100 off or something."

In an e-mailed statement to Ad Age, a Microsoft spokesman would say only: "We can confirm that Apple contacted Microsoft." Apple, meanwhile, did not respond to several calls for comment, and Apple's lead ad agency, TBWA/Media Arts Lab, also declined to comment.

One industry lawyer said it's unlikely Apple will file suit against Microsoft, but if it does, it could have a case based on legal precedent forcing marketers to pull outdated comparison ads.

"Apple seems to have this sort of cool image; I'd be surprised if they'd file suit on something like this. ... It would be bad publicity and only make people talk about Microsoft being more relevant," said Michael McSunas, an attorney at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel.

Mr. McSunas said in the past these sorts of ad tussles have been resolved in lower-profile ways, such as a cease-and-desist letter. Ford, for example, stopped running a commercial for its Freestar minivan in 2004 after receiving a letter from Chrysler's legal department pointing out that claims in the Ford ads were no longer true. Another option could be calling upon the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

However, if Apple did opt to bring a suit against Microsoft, it "would have a legal leg to stand on," Mr. McSunas said. "If, indeed, you now can buy a MacBook for under $1,000, then [the 'Laptop Hunters' campaign] would be inaccurate and misleading."

Whether or not Apple is plotting a legal attack, the alleged phone call -- which Mr. Turner ranked as "the greatest single phone call in the history that I've ever taken in the business" -- has done little to scare off Microsoft. Rather, it seems to have emboldened the company in its quest to win back market share.

"We're just going to keep running them and running them and running them," Mr. Turner said of the "Laptop Hunters" spots.

He also announced Microsoft's plans for a major retail play. "We're going to have some retail stores opened up that are opened up right next door to Apple stores this fall," Mr. Turner said. "Stay tuned, just stay tuned."

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Beth Snyder Bulik contributed to this report.

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