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.