Now Qualcomm Went Long

At the conclusion of Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon’s keynote yesterday at Computex 2024 in Taipei, he unveiled a new ad starring Justin Long, who played the Mac in Apple’s long-running “Get a Mac” (“I’m a Mac …” / “… and I’m a PC”) campaign in the mid-2000s. The 30-second bit was seemingly removed today, by Qualcomm, from the YouTube video of Amon’s keynote, but there’s a copy of just the ad here. Warning: it’s excruciatingly awkward.

I don’t know what Qualcomm was thinking here (nor what has happened to Long’s acting career), but the most bizarre aspect of this is that Intel used Long in the exact same way just three years ago. I wrote then, of the Intel take on this dumb idea:

I find it cringey, and kind of hard to watch. It’s neither parody nor sequel. It’s an attempt at comedy from writers who have no sense of humor. The concept isn’t actually anything beyond “Let’s hire Justin Long as our new pitchman, that’ll show them.” One gets the feeling, early on, that there was an uncomfortable phone call to Justin Long from his agent that began, “Before you say ‘no’, at least let me tell you how much money they’re offering.” The concept wouldn’t really work with anyone other than Justin Long.

Qualcomm’s spot is even worse. The premise is that Long is searching the web for “where can i find a snapdragon powered pc?” because his MacBook is inundating him with a nonstop barrage of notifications and warnings for things like his printer not being found because he’s not connected to Wi-Fi (yet somehow he’s searching the web?), an app that needs to be “optimized” for his Mac, and an email from his mom asking if he’s eaten lunch yet. These supposed technical problems aren’t actually problems on MacOS, and switching to a Snapdragon-powered Windows PC isn’t going to stop his mom from emailing him.

It’s not like there’s a joke here that falls flat. There is no joke, nor even an attempt at one. It’s just “Hey look, we hired the ‘I’m a Mac’ guy.” Even the production values on the commercial are bad. How is Greg Joswiak going to sleep at night?

The core genius at the heart of the original “Get a Mac” campaign is that while Long’s Mac character was likable, John Hodgman’s PC — ostensibly the foil — was downright lovable. In lesser creative hands, the Mac character would’ve been the hero and the PC would’ve been downright loathsome — and the campaign would have consisted of a single ad that ran for one month, tops, and no one would remember it today. Instead, by making Hodgman’s PC the lovable-but-doomed-to-lose protagonist — a la Rodney Dangerfield’s genius can’t-get-no-respect comic persona — the campaign wasn’t just funny, it worked. It actually did what for two decades had seemed impossible — it convinced PC users to switch to the Mac.

In 2020, a year before Justin Long went rogue for Intel, it was Hodgman, solo, whom Apple brought back for a “one more thing” coda to the announcement of the first batch of Apple silicon-based Macs.1 Now that spot was funny, and that’s the character whom everyone remembers with abiding affection.

If Apple were to work in a bit with Hodgman on screen in this Monday’s WWDC keynote, the crowd at Apple Park would go bananas, and the clip would go viral on social media. If they put Long on screen, by himself — which, clearly, after his serial brand betrayals,2 is never going to happen — there’d be a lot of “Who’s that?”

  1. That Apple even had Hodgman say “one more thing” is notable. That phrase is almost sacred in Apple’s keynote ethos, because it’s so closely associated with Steve Jobs. To my recollection the only Apple executive ever to utter it other than Jobs himself is Tim Cook, and he’s used it only rarely, and with reverence. Maybe Phil Schiller used it, in one of the keynotes he hosted while Jobs was on medical leave, but if so I don’t recall it — and I think I would have, because it would have drawn awkward attention to Jobs’s absence. I think it’s just three men who’ve said it: Jobs, Cook, and Hodgman. ↩︎︎

  2. I don’t mean to imply that it’s unethical for a pitchman to take a gig from a rival company years after an ad campaign ends. It’s a business. But it strikes me as a bad idea for getting future spokesperson work to earn a reputation as someone who’ll jump to a competitor and attempt to mock the previous company’s product by mocking the original campaign. And when you think about it, Long’s new Qualcomm role isn’t just a ham-fisted slap at Apple, it’s a slap at Intel too, for whom he worked just three years ago. What’s next for Long, a spot in a Huawei commercial slagging on the Qualcomm modems in iPhones?

    (Postscript.) ↩︎