August 07, 2012

Apple Goes a-Branding, Part 1

Once in while, a visionary business leader comes along. This person has an inherent understanding of who and what the business is because to a large extent the business is the extended shadow of this individual.

Once in a while, this type of visionary also has a great feel for advertising. He or she understands it in a way that no one else in the organization can. This is because the advertising is, in effect, for him.  If advertising is a company's public personality, only he knows what he wants his public personality to be.

The strange part of this is that the people all around him don't comprehend what he is doing. Even after they've watched him for years, they still don't understand it.
When the visionary is gone, what happens to the advertising? Usually, one of three things.

First is that the person who takes over the visionary's job inherits the advertising. This usually doesn't last long because the person in question rarely has the creative understanding that the visionary had. She may be better at operations or finance, but it would be a miracle if she had the creative instincts of the visionary.

The second possibility is that the responsibility for advertising defaults to its usual place in the corporate structure -- the marketing department -- with the usual results: uninspired, witless advertising.

Third is that a committee of "wise men" is assembled to oversee marketing and advertising. This is often a disaster. It's like trying to replace one Otis Redding with six Justin Biebers.

I don't know which of the three is happening now at Apple, but whatever it is, it stinks.

Last year about this time, upon the retirement of Steve Jobs, I wrote a piece called Advertising And The Future Of Apple. In the post I wrote the following: 
"The product pipeline will take years to screw up. But the ad pipeline can be screwed up in no time....About a year from now, with Jobs in the background, the knuckleheads at Apple (there are knuckleheads everywhere) will have a chance to get their sweaty hands on the advertising."
Well, it's a year later and unfortunately my prediction has turned out to be accurate.

Apple's latest campaign, featuring an Apple "genius" is being roundly ridiculed throughout the advertising and marketing world. While I think this campaign is pedestrian, I don't think it is the disaster that the blogocracy would have you believe.

However, I do think it is symptomatic of something much more dangerous than just one bad campaign -- it is the third Apple campaign in a row (since Jobs' unfortunate death) that indicates to me that the new regime at Apple is not very good at "Apple" advertising.

TBWA/Chiat/Day has done so much great advertising for Apple for so long, that I have a hard time believing they are responsible for this. My experience with large organizations going through a change in leadership leads me to believe that this is an Apple problem, not an agency problem.

Sadly, I have seen this movie before. I have been involved with companies that had a brilliant leader who demanded good advertising. And I have been there when the flat tires took over and turned the advertising to crap.

There is a lot wrong with what Apple has been doing for the last year. Later this week, in our next exciting episode -- Apple Goes a-Branding, Part 2 -- we'll look at what they are doing wrong and why.


Chris Seiger said...

They've lost their focus on product and benefit. And for what?

Graham Strong said...

I think there are many things wrong with these ads, but the most important (and to echo what Chris said): Apple has always focused on the product, and has shown users using it. Only one of the three ads I saw even had an Apple product, and it wasn't the focus.

Past ads instilled confidence that the user could easily do anything with it themselves. Now it seems you need a Genius to create a photobook -- or even get the idea for a photobook. Also, too many "real-world" sound effects in the background (I like the white, insular feel of past Apple ads, wrapped in pleasant music).And did anyone else find the fact that the Genius slept in his shirt creepy? Next time I go into an Apple store, I'll be wondering if that's a fresh shirt...


Rob Mortimer said...

Apple was always going to have this problem. If they kept on doing things the way Steve Jobs did them, everyone would say 'it's just not the same', but if they change everyone will say they have changed for the worse.

I don't actually mind the Genius campaign, but I can see how it's different to what Apple have always done - and what comes next worries me.

franktisellano said...


And it's not fresh. I promise.
- former Apple Retail employee

Cboak said...

Agreed. Imovie and Iphoto are simple. The commercials almost seem to be selling the One to One service, as opposed to the Genius Bar.Yes and the shirt thing is a bit creepy although some of the Genius' I've met seemed to have slept (and in one case worked out) in their shirt.

Rob Hatfield said...

They'd be better off running 30 seconds of the Apple logo and silence, with the sound of an iMac booting up at the end.

Secret About Box said...

The instinct of FINALLY advertising the Apple Store was dead on. The execution? Not so much.

I agree that this gives good cause to have concern about what comes next. Hopefully they'll find something more centered between what was and what now is while writing the Genius efforts off as an Olympic time frame effort only, while they have the chance.