I am a PC.

A couple of years ago, I fell in love with Apple's “Mac vs. PC” ad campaign—the brilliant spots that personify a young, cool Mac and a hapless, nerdy PC. There were no flashy videos, no slogans, no clutter. The ads were hip and humorous, albeit a little mean at times. And they gave me pause (for all of 30 seconds) to reflect on my lifelong preference for PCs.

Since 2006, these ads have continued largely unrebuked by the PC world. Until now. Last month, a new commercial from Microsoft fought back against the stereotype created by the Apple ads. In the colorful, fast-paced clips, ordinary and extraordinary folks (read: marine biologists, graffiti artists, Eva Longoria, and Deepak Chopra, to name a few) proclaim themselves to be PCs—and proud of it.

Finally, I thought, immediately relating to the ad's subtle tone of “Oh, yeah? Take that!” We PC users aren't half bad. Yes, I am a PC. And that's OK.

Therein lies the power of a good ad campaign. The Mac vs. PC ads—whether or not you bought into their claims—changed the way we identify with computers. In today's world, it seems, you are your machine. More than that, however, good advertising can change the way people think about a product, a service, even an industry.

In the 1990s, it was the “Got Milk?” campaign developed for dairy producers. Today, everyone from corn growers to RV manufacturers to shrimpers is coming together to promote their industry and rally consumers. And this got me thinking: Where is the ad campaign for the apartment industry?

Conventional wisdom tells us that buying a house is the American dream—and that all renters should be working toward homeownership. But those of us in the industry know that's not always true. There are dozens of benefits to renting a home—greater flexibility, less hassle, and, most importantly, the opportunity to live in and experience the urban core.

Unfortunately, renting gets a bad rap—one that it doesn't deserve. In an age where high density and anti-sprawl are the drivers, proximity to transit and walkability the amenities, and sustainability the ultimate goal, the multifamily industry has a responsibility to educate consumers about the benefits of renting in live/work/play hubs throughout the country. Homeownership may be the fastest way to wealth creation for many families in the country, but homeownership is not for everyone.

Right now, it seems the apartment industry is doing well. Occupancy rates are high, vacancies low, and rents on the rise. As consumers steer clear of mortgage debt and foreclosures from the subprime debacle begin hitting their peak, more people are renting. The industry's job is to make this trend a conscience choice, not a factor of chance.

Yes, the idea of a national television campaign promoting the benefits of multifamily living seems pie-in-the-sky at best. But I think it is possible, if someone—or some group—takes the helm. But who? A consortium of property owners? An industry association? The National Multi Housing Council, for one, has made small steps toward this approach—particularly with their recently updated “Because Not Every Home is a House” print campaign. Ultimately, the goal needs to be to free those who might enjoy the vibrancy, activity, and connectivity of infill living from the stigma associated with renting.

After all, there are those who will always prefer a white picket fence and a 60-mile commute. But for the rest of us, there is more to be had from the housing industry. And I, for one, have realized that while I'm definitely a PC, I may also be a longtime renter.

Shabnam Mogharabi, Editor
smogharabi@hanleywood.com