Microsoft surprised a lot of people with its Laptop Hunters advertising campaign. They were surprisingly unawkward, unlike Microsoft’s Seinfeld campaign. While ‘hip‘ may not be a good descriptor, they weren’t uncool either.

Apple is standing idly by, however. It is firing back with another ‘I’m a Mac‘ ad that takes aim at Microsoft’s campaign.

Apple’s new ad features Fake Bill Gates and a young woman, Megan, looking for a new computer. She quickly discovers that Fake Bill can’t provide her with a reliable, secure computer that meets her requirements and she’s left with Mr. Mac.

I have mixed feelings about the ad. The ad definitely is condescending and smug, as Gizmodo points out. While I’m not naive enough to believe that negative advertising doesn’t work, I’m also not sure that this is the right tack for Apple at this time.

Times are tough for lots of people. There are already a lot of negative emotions floating around out there. And, of course, when it comes to purchasing decisions, cost/value considerations are extremely important to many people.

While Apple may look like it’s essentially recession-proof, the iPhone has contributed much of Apple’s growth. This past quarter, Mac sales actually posted a decline. At the same time, PC unit sales rose 22% year-over-year in February.

One of the obvious reasons: PCs, whether you love ’em or hate ’em, have pricing that’s much easier for many consumers to swallow. When you can purchase a quad-core PC for under $750 or a netbook for around $300, it’s harder to justify spending well over $1,000 on a Mac, no matter how stylish and reliable it is.

While Apple’s ad does try to reinforce the image that PCs are unreliable and insecure, my concern for Apple is that this approach can only go so far. At this point, Apple risks limiting its ads to the ‘preaching to the choir‘ category.

Yes, Windows can be a pain in the butt. And yes PCs are the target of far more security exploits than Macs. But to insinuate that PCs ‘don’t work’ isn’t going to cut it because PC and netbook sales demonstrate that consumers believe they ‘work well enough‘.

Apple, in my opinion, can’t simply label the competitor’s product inferior; it has to justify its own cost/value proposition. You can’t do that by simply criticizing your competitors; cost/value propositions have to be positive sells, not negative sells. They have to be about the value you offer the buyer.

Although I wasn’t exactly blown away with Microsoft’s ads, they largely demonstrated a positive experience to the viewer: a prospective computer buyer goes out hunting for a computer, finds plenty of options to choose from and in the end, locates the perfect PC at the right price. Isn’t that what everyone hopes to accomplish when purchasing a new computer?

In Apple’s ad, the focus is on the PC and what it can’t do. All of the PC options are quickly eliminated and the prospective buyer is left with a single option (the Mac). See the difference?

Macs are great machines (I own a MacBook) and I admire the Apple brand. But if there’s a time and a place for ads with snark, smugness and condescension, I just feel this isn’t it.

No matter what you’re selling, consider that your prospective buyers don’t want to hear what your competitors can’t do for them; they want to hear what you can do for them at a price that fits their budget.