Ad nauseam: tech's best and worst ad attacks

Ad nauseam: tech's best and worst advert attacks
Tech ads that mock the weak

Whether you're in the playground or on Twitter, you can't beat a good swipe at your rivals - and that's something the tech industry knows all too well.

Tech's big names love to wind one another up. The latest to do it is Amazon with an ad that pokes fun at Apple and Jony Ive. But while the best attack ads can do serious damage they can also backfire very badly.

Come with us as we discover tech's best and worst sideswipes, digs and disses.

Apple: Big Brother

This 1984 Super Bowl ad was directed by Ridley Scott, mocked IBM and introduced the Macintosh, and it's one of the best-known and best liked ads of all time (unlike the following year's Lemmings, which is widely believed to be one of Apple's worst ads; it made the fatal mistake of slagging off rivals' customers, not the rivals themselves). The Big Brother commercial helped establish a narrative that's still potent today: Apple as the cool underdog standing up to The Man, its mission to free everyone from drudgery and despair. Today, of course, many people see Apple as The Man. Including…

Motorola: Empower The People

Once again we have a Super Bowl ad showing an individual standing against tedium and conformity, but in this 2011 spot the drones are the ones wearing the white earbuds. It's really rather nice, because Motorola's ad pulls off the difficult trick of mocking Apple without falling into tired stereotypes. Stereotypes such as…

Samsung: Sheeple

Remember Apple's Lemmings ad? Samsung clearly didn't, because its teaser campaign for the Galaxy S3 made the cardinal error of going after rivals' customers rather than the rivals themselves. To make things worse it used one of the most tiresome slurs in tech. The idea of customers as sheep is as fresh and as cutting-edge as calling Microsoft "micro$oft," but Samsung decided to go with it anyway. The ad was part of a wider anti-Apple campaign that left many observers cold. As did…

Samsung: something incomprehensible in Iceland

There is a man. He has an apple. He tries to dial a number, but he cannot because it is an apple. He swipes, but nothing happens because it is an apple. He holds it to his head, but nothing happens because it is an apple. He sits for a while. He is sad about the apple. Then something happens: he gets a Galaxy S4. He is happy! He is happy because the Samsung is a phone! He is so happy he must dance, behind a goat!

Sony: ner ner Nintendo

A man in a Crash Bandicoot costume parks outside Nintendo HQ and shouts taunts through a megaphone. More tech firms should do this. Come to think of it, more firms in every sector should do this. Every industrial estate would end up like the fight scenes from Anchorman.

Did someone say "fight"?

Nokia: wedding trashers

This excellent spot for the Lumia 920 has lots of fun with the Apple/Samsung/Android enmity as a supposedly respectable wedding descends into smartphone-related mayhem. The LOLs keep coming as rival phone fans knock lumps out of each other while two cool, good-looking young things film the mayhem on their Nokias. If you made this into a film we'd go to see it.

Nokia: zombies

Nokia's been on a roll this year: its Don't Flash spot turned rivals' unimpressive low-light snapping into an invasion of really badly lit zombies. Rivals aren't named - in fact, there's only one word in the whole advert - but the message is clear: other phones' cameras are rubbish in low light.

Apple: get a Mac (US)

The inspired and oft-parodied pairing of John Hodgman as a deluded and thoroughly uncool PC and Justin Long as his cool Cupertino counterpart pummelled Microsoft for three painful years from 2006 to 2009. While the spots differed the message was consistent: Windows was uncool, unreliable and plagued with "thousands of viruses and tons of headaches". Apple sales surged, and while the adverts can't claim all the credit the numbers are still staggering: in the first year of the campaign Apple's sales increased by 39%.

Apple: get a Mac (UK)

Casting Peep Show's David Mitchell and Robert Webb for the UK Get A Mac ads must have seemed like a great idea, but there was one teeny-weeny little problem: in the programme, Mitchell's character was the one everybody liked and Webb was the one everybody thought was an arse. As Charlie Brooker put it: "When you see the ads you think 'PCs are a bit rubbish yet ultimately loveable, whereas Macs are just smug, preening tossers.'"

Microsoft: patronising pawn shops

The news that Microsoft has created a new attack ad fills us with the same sense of excitement, joy and wonder that we get from the news of a Limp Bizkit comeback. While Microsoft can do good advertising - the current "Invitation" promo for the Xbox One is ace - the only thing its attack ads tend to damage is its own foot.

The anti-Chromebook Scroogled ad is patronising, and September's anti-iPhone video - in which supposed Apple employees pitched unimpressive phone features to Jonathan Ive and Steve Jobs - were so awful that Microsoft hasn't just stopped running it: it's taken it off the internet, buried it in the Mojave Desert and had everybody with even the most tenuous connection to the campaign killed.

Or as Microsoft puts it: "the video was intended to be a light-hearted poke at our friends from Cupertino, but it was off the mark, and we've decided to pull it down."

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.