Since then I've been watching their advertising fairly closely. I haven't written anything about it until this week because I didn't want to rush to judgment. But I think it's time to say it's getting to be a mess.
Since Jobs' unfortunate passing I have been aware of 3 major campaigns for Apple: The new iPad intro, Siri (iPhone), and the "Genius" campaign.
There is nothing that these efforts have in common other than the logo. The more they are doing, the farther away they are getting from the traditional Apple sensibility.
The iPad TV spots were typical Apple demo spots. The billboards for the new iPad also followed the typical Apple template, but were strangely confusing. The Siri campaign is uninspired, unconvincing, and rests on the borrowed interest of celebrities. The "Genius" campaign, while not as bad as some critics would have you believe, has the smell of formulaic advertising thinking.
In last year's post I suggested there were 5 danger signals to look for in the advertising after Jobs left. Here's what I said at the time:
1. Creeping Brandism: The Apple brand was built bottom-up. That is, the products defined the brand. Virtually every Apple ad was about a product, not the brand (okay, there was "Think Different" but that didn't last.) Keep an eye out for the erosion of this discipline.
2. Agency change: Vapid marketing people relegated to the background all these years by Jobs' dominance may suddenly start flexing. They wouldn't dare contradict Jobs' legacy, but they could accomplish the same thing by undermining the agency.
3. The Tortured Logic of Account Planning: Look for ads about you the consumer instead of Apple products. Look for moronic online "engagement" gimmicks. Or look for social media pandering.
4. Complications: Part of the brilliance of Apple advertising has been its simplicity. Keep an eye out for complicated ideas or ads with more than one product.
5. Media: Apple has used online media sparingly. The preponderance of its advertising has been conducted in traditional media -- TV, print, and outdoor. Watch to see if Apple suddenly starts going all trendy and new age in its media choices.Already I am sensing the appearance of 3 of these 5 warning signs. The "Genius" campaign is archetypal "branding." As far as I can tell, it is about nothing in particular. People I have spoken to are unclear on what the campaign is about. People think it is about a) the retail stores, b) software, c) the iMac d) "service." This is the antithesis of Apple's traditional advertising which was always clearly about a product or a benefit.
I am also sensing the logic of account planning at work. Where did the idea come from that the "Genius" was an iconic representation of the Apple brand? My money is on a planning "insight."
I am definitely seeing complicated messages. Below you will find an example of an email I recently received from Apple. It looks like Apple, but it doesn't sound like them. It is about two different things: Their new operating system, and their laptops. And even worse, it is not about a laptop, it is about their line of laptops. This is not Apple.
I am not surprised that the creative work has suffered. As I said at the time, genius is non-transferable. But I am surprised that whoever is calling the ad shots now at Apple seems not to understand the principles that Jobs operated under.
Apple has two important advertising tasks ahead of it. In the long run, they need to get back to doing great advertising. This is not easy.
But first, they need to do something very much simpler. They need to start sounding like Apple again.
Apple Goes a-Branding, Part 1 can be found here.