‘Apple is doomed’ narrative and the Apple-ad agency emails

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It is a bit hard on TBWA. Imagine a series of emails, which you once thought were confidential, are out in the public domain. What’s more, they are being dissected threadbare and judgements being passed on. I am of course referring to the email exchanges between long-time ad agency of Apple, TBWA/MediaArtsLab and Phi Schiller, Apple’s marketing honcho.

Let met state upfront that I have nothing but respect and admiration for TBWA\Chiat as an agency group and particularly for their work on Apple. Over the years, the agency has created stellar, creative, brand-building work for Apple. Who can forget ‘1984’, ‘Think Different’, ‘Mac vs PC’ and so many other outstanding work for the brand.

It is not fair to be judgemental about a team that has first-hand experience of working on the brand but while reading the aforesaid mail exchanges, these were my thoughts:

– It appears to me that the agency team was swayed by the ‘Apple is doomed narrative’, which is so common across the web. While it is good to see that the discussion was beyond just the next 30-second commercial and the agency raised larger issues about the brand (company behaviour, product road map etc.) I couldn’t help get the feeling that there was a defensive tone. It was almost as if there was a reaction to everything that the trade media wanted Apple to do: launch larger screen phones, new look software and so on. The ‘Apple is doomed’ narrative in tech & general media and Wall Street circles is not new. It’s been going on for years. Social media has only amplified that noise, with all and sundry commenting on what a brand should do. So when the ad agency whose primary job is to create preference for the brand it is advertising sends out a message (interpreted correctly or otherwise) that ‘all is not well with the brand’ one can’t help get the feeling that their belief is shaken.

In my view, this is the effect of the orchestrated PR campaign against Apple through tech media, blogs & social networks. Many ‘influencers’ have openly abused Apple and written it off either as a copycat or a dying brand. Every misstep of Apple is gleefully celebrated. In such a milieu it is normal for people being exposed to such messages again and again to believe in the lie. Nobody has the time or intent to dig deep into anything and sound bytes stick in our heads. Samsung’s biggest victory lies is beyond market share– it lies in the fact that the brand has come to be equated with Apple in no time.

The second aspect (not related to that specific email exchange) is the general attitude of agencies to clients. It is good that an agency team voices its concerns about the overall brand health and suggests remedies. Sometimes, the understanding of the business problem may be half-baked or plain wrong. When clients ride roughshod over an agency’s point of view, it could be for many reasons: the agency is wrong from a strategy perspective, the client did not like the idea (ideas are subjective, after all) or the agency-relationship client was not mature enough to see each other as equal partners. As mentioned in this article: ‘Perhaps it’s unfair to read too much into this particular back-and-forth, but for me this typifies life at agencies…the relationship between agency and client is often incredibly difficult and frequently humiliating. Few people have the stamina and perseverance for it.’ Sometimes, even if the agency is right, they may have to accept a client’s decision to not buy into it and move on.

In the case of Schiller-agency email exchanges, I thought the client was spot on. What say?

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  1. Apple is a very secretive company & it’s not really clear to what extent future plans were shared wit the Ad agency. From their point of view, it must have felt like working in the dark.

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