August 09, 2012

Apple Goes a-Branding , Part 2

A year ago I wrote a post called Advertising And the Future Of Apple. The theme of the piece was that one of the early indications that clumsy hands were at the wheel at Apple might show up in the advertising.

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.


Chris Seiger said...

The cure for this is pretty simple. Stop listening to new age ad people and planners and insights and strategists and focus groups and all of that shit and sell one thing. To one person. In one ad.

Harvey said...

Bob, I hope you don't mind my including a link, but thought you might be interested on my take on the "genius" campaign and the recent missteps that the new Apple polishers have made.

Graham Strong said...

Hey Bob,

"Where did the idea come from that the "Genius" was an iconic representation of the Apple brand?"

That's exactly right. The Apple Genius is an icon in a sense -- in popular culture as well as within the Apple brand -- but I agree that highlighting it is a mistake. The Genius is there to help you get the best use of the product (i.e., the focus is *always* on the product or benefit). Besides, it has a nice value-added feel to it when Apple doesn't mention it in their advertising. To elevate the status from "conduit to the product" to "official icon" takes the spotlight away from the product and negates that value-addedness.

(And let's not forget that a certain percentage of Apple purchasers don't have access to Apple stores directly on a regular basis, and therefore don't have access to Apple Geniuses. Suddenly this touted "benefit" is a missing benefit for many customers, something that wasn't so apparent when Geniuses weren't so highly profiled in its marketing.)


Andrew said...

While I generally agree with you, Bob, I also recall the myriad iTunes/iPod spots that Apple invested heavily in a few years ago. Those seem like pure branding.

Is the point that they just focused on one product, as opposed to general "Apple is great" spots?

Leigh said...

No one is mentioning Chiat\Day in all of this. How much is the agency to blame?

Anonymous said...

Simon Sinek gives a really good explanation as to the WHY of Apple. Just google start with why.

I am a fan of Apple but not a fanboy. My Mac and ipad ate crucial in my life. The latest ads just left me sighing. "Ugh-Apple is just all the other damn technology companies."

psvt said...

some counter points:

1. The head of marketing remains Phil Schiller, who has been their 15 years - from Think Different to Genius.

2. Apple's most iconic advertising has been pure branding: The 1984 commercial, Think Different, The iPod dancers, etc. They always reach for that drawer.

3. There has *always* been different flavors of Apple ads:

a. Product teasers for most computers (no demo - just a look at the object as a thing of beauty - see iMac, MacBook, etc),
b. Product demos for iPhone and iPad - we associate this with Apple predominately now but this only started in late 2007
c. Pure branding spots, maybe with a product tie-in like 1984 or the iPod commercials
d. Quirky spots about people using Apple products - the "Switch" campaign with its testimonies from ordinary folks, the Mac vs PC comedy duo, and now the Genius campaign.

As for their email campaigns, I do recall getting ads for their "notebook line" in the past. And dual ads showing off two things. I don't recall seeing one for OS X and hardware in one ... but this isn't a new trick in Apple's playbill

There seems to be tendency among media watchers to be hyper sensitive to Apple's changing after Steve's passing. And that people just "know" what Steve would have done differently. This is hubris. Steve did lots of things people thought were stupid. This is becoming a media narrative self-fulfilling prophecy, - no matter what Apple does, it can't match what The Steve would have done, thereby fulfilling everyone's quota of "Apple is dying" stories, which we've seen for 20 years now.

Mickey said...

I agree with your assessments, Bob. That putrid 'Genius' campaign looked like a next generation Gates/Seinfeld campaign for Microsoft. That said, I've proven myself to be a bit of a financial dope. When Jobs croaked, i started selling off my Apple stock (priced at $400/share). Since then, it's up more than 40%. What gives? Kinda proves your point that marketing doesn't affect things like we'd like to think it does.

Ken D said...

"Think Different" had a good excuse for being light on product. Jobs had just returned to the company and had asked Chiat Day to buy him a year with the loyalists while he worked frantically on the iMac. They went brand precisely because there was no product to talk about.

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