By Brendan I. Koerner
The Pitch They still make laptop commercials? Apparently so, and stylish ones at that. "Everything you want in a notebook," the narrator intones, as a slinky, possibly Icelandic model experiences all the Acer Aspire 5920G has to offer: a "holographic 3D finish," "opalesque contours," and "Enlightener media flow." (No, I have no idea what any of that means, either.) Donning a curve-hugging, sleeveless white pantsuit, our captivating model slides around oversized laptops and enjoys some Dolby surround sound before the familiar Intel jingle caps the pitch. Is Acer's new Aspire Gemstone lineup about to supplant Sony's Vaios as the preferred notebooks of design-conscious PC users? Or is Acer getting too fancy with its aesthetics-first schtick?Rip Off Of A jillion ads for German cars, which is no accident. The 5920G was co-designed by none other than BMW; after the success of the Acer's Ferrari laptops, you knew this was coming, didn't you? So the aesthetic here is pure automotive porn: Instead of twisting around an Alpine road at impossible speeds, the Acer model romps about a Matrix-like netherworld replete with sapphires, opals and $1,919 laptops. There's no sense of irony or humor here—it's all about wowing you with the Teutonic care that's gone into the product's creation.
The Spin The marketing approach is very non-Apple, but Acer seems to be positioning its Aspire Gemstones as the premier PC rivals to the Macbooks. That was once the Sony Vaios' gig, but those laptops seem to have lost some of their luster—the brand was diluted, perhaps, by overproduction on the low-end (such as the VGN-FE670s). This commercial tries to seize the Vaio's mantle, then, by accenting frills similar to those that won Sony so many laptop customers: eye-catching design and attention to multimedia features. As previously noted, for example, the Gemstones claim to be the first notebooks with Dolby-certified surround sound. And there's a nifty built-in webcam, as well as dedicated volume buttons—Apple-like tricks that the Vaio series adopted long ago.
Counterspin The ad briefly namechecks the Intel Centrino chipset, but no other performance specs are mentioned. In other words, Acer's betting the farm that looks, not power, are what drive laptop customers with $2,000 to spend (i.e. the mid-range folks). But is Acer covering up for some deal-killing flaws? Word is the battery life is rated a mere 130 minutes, and an early CNet Asia review dinged the 5920G for poor setup (particularly the dunderheaded arrangement of the USB ports and DVD-ROM drive). The specs are solid enough—two gigs of RAM, a Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics card—but not spectacular; smart shoppers can save a few hundred bucks by going for a comparably outfitted (though far less sexy) Lenovo or HP (such as the HP Pavilion dv5375us).
Takeaway Props to Acer for picking a strategy and sticking to it. They've concluded that they can grow market share with this laptops-are-the-new-cars tactic, and they understand that aesthetics do matter. For the past two years or so, the conventional wisdom has been that price is paramount in the notebooks space; Acer senses a shift in the prevailing sentiment. The Taiwanese company has already made tremendous inroads in its native Asia; it controls 42 percent of the market in Thailand, for example. But how much of a premium are American consumers willing to pay in order to hear their friends say, "Wow, cool-looking laptop"? And will the automotive gimmick wear thin?
Hype-O-Meter 8 (out of 10). I usually like my commercials with at least some hint of humor, an attribute that's entirely lacking here. But the 5920G pitch accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and with a with an alluring lady to boot; if nothing else, it's tough to hate on a commercial starring a circa-1997 Milla Jovovich clone. If a few geek luminaries start showing up in Fast Company with Gemstones, the masses could soon follow—at least the masses for whom $400-$500 is no great amount to sacrifice in the name of sharp design.