Why are Apple’s Marketing Communications now so dull?
I get it. If you have product this good you just get the ad-BS out of the way and do a great demo. I’ve had no problem with that approach for the last few years as iPhones, MacBook Airs, and iPads came thick and fast.
In fact Apple’s approach has been a God-send in my work as it has helped get us out of the ‘brand image’ trap and elevate the conversation about product back to the top where it belongs, and to make those conversations more honest, i.e. spend more money on the kind of product development that creates its own word-of-mouth, rather than trying to gin up mediocre product in flashy social media.
But looking at Apple’s comms over the last few years it’s hard not to conclude that it’s all getting a bit dull and formulaic. How many more “thinner” “faster” “more powerful” claims can we hear before it becomes all noise and no signal? Pity the poor creative department that has to turn this out repeatedly.
I find it all a bit puzzling given Apple’s rich advertising history. Who didn’t love 1984 and admire the entire gestalt of Apple that it conveyed? Or The Crazy Ones manifesto and what and whom it celebrated (somewhat cheekily, presumptuously, perhaps). Or Mac vs PC, which, though it was still a side-by-side product demo, made a larger point and had great charm to it.
And, of course, the iconic dancing silhouettes for ipod were so good they spawned lots of imitations — I think of them every time I see the credits to Mad Men — while making it really clear what the true benefit of 10,000 songs in your pocket really was.
And I personally thought the FaceTime campaign pulled very effectively at heartstrings — it got me using it.
So why do we now seem largely stuck on the white seamless with the disembodied swiping finger? Why do so many of the scenarios the ads are built around seem so hum-drum? It’s not even as if Apple needs to tout product features in its advertising. Every newspaper on earth carried the specs of the new iPad in their editorials, along with Apple’s own rich site. And the fan boys wrote tons of reviews online with hours of launch. That data is not hard to find.
Could it be there’s an aversion to ‘marketing’ at Apple now? Rumor has it Jobs banned the word ‘brand’ around the place a few years back lest anyone get deflected from creating a design and engineering triumph. Has that mindset stifled the creativity of some of the most creative marketers on Earth who don’t want to out-shine the real hero?
Or is the sheer scale of ambition for iPad — replace all PCs everywhere — leading them to act like conservative mass-marketers whose desire to appeal to everyone and turn-off no one is creating some kind of race-to-the-bottom creatively?
Now, Apple’s device and iTunes ecosystem is so much of a fortress these days that they have plenty of inertia in the model to ensure continued success without needing better comms. And the store experience seems to just get better and better and probably creates far more brand goodwill than any ads might.
But let’s assume the worst for a minute. Let’s assume that iPhone 5 has about as much wow as 4S, and that Samsung, who made the screen that seems to be the big idea behind iPad 3 make their own retina display tablet; and that the Android app ecosystem continues to gain steam; and the other ‘phone’ device manufacturers pull their fingers out and make a comeback on a number of fronts; and that, as seems somewhat inevitable and may already be happening (Foxconn etc) that some kind of backlash gets rolling. Then what? It sure would be nice to have the best-loved ads on the planet as part of your arsenal.
So it’s time for Apple to use advertising as a source of inspiration for what these amazing products can do to benefit humanity, rather than just demo them.
There’s a line in the film they used to launch the new iPad, “We believe technology should be invisible. When you’re conscious only of what you’re doing, not what you’re doing it with.” Fair enough. So show us what people are doing and make it great. Show us how the world has changed as a consequence of using all this gear. I know it’s changed my career and life immeasurably.
Jobs was the ultimate Marketer and clearly knew how to use communication to stop the world for a moment. It would be a tribute to him for Apple to raise its game now and show that side again.
Bring back the crazy ones. Blow us away.
Thumbnail image – copyright Help Scout