Apple and its advertising: thoughts on recent developments – Part 1

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Apple is reportedly in the process of setting up an internal ad agency. This development is seen as a result of Apple being unhappy with the output from their long term ad agency TBWA\ Media Arts Lab. The conclusion that Apple is unhappy with their agency came about in media, as a result of internal emails and the fact that some new ads have been made by an internal team. Not just the advertising trade press but the general tech media too has gone to town dissecting this development. I could detect a tinge of glee in the tone – tech media has been predicting the downfall of Apple for years now and this is sort of a confirmation.

Apple used to be the most prestigious brand in the world. But lately it has lost its marketing mojo. Google is now widely regarded as the better brand. Even Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller has admitted that Samsung is “feeling it” while Apple struggles to find direction on the iPhone brand.

“I don’t feel that energy from Apple,” said one top agency exec who was approached for a post. “The revolution has come and gone, and I’m not sure a job at Apple would be a creative opportunity. If I were going to go brand-side, there are a lot more interesting companies I’d rather work for, like Coke or Pepsi.”

The advertising trade press has reported these developments from an ad agency angle and have even dissected Apple ads from a pre- and post-Steve Jobs perspective. Herewith my unsolicited thoughts on this and related issues:

TBWA/Chait/Day and TBWA\Media Arts Lab havce made a stellar contribution to creating equity around the Apple brand. A recent Business Insider article said: Apple’s products don’t sell because of the ads; they sell because they’re great products. The ads are just the icing on a cake that TBWA doesn’t make.

Absolute rubbish. It is said that great advertising hastens the death of a bad product. But that does not mean that great products sell themselves automatically. A concerted messaging effort to is required to create a consistent, differentiated and correct perception with a long term focus. Right from the days of Macintosh, TBWA/Chiat/Day has created advertising which is focused, relevant, memorable and endearing. Above all it has contributed to Apple’s image as an aspirational, premium brand. It has communicated Apple’s product story and the consumer benefit in clear, differentiated terms. From the days of print advertising to television to web banners there have been several memorable campaigns:

1984: need I say more?
Newsweek spread to announce the Macintosh: great example of copy & art working together. Clever copy which brings a smile and makes tech advertising a pleasure to read.
What’s on your Powerbook?: classic Apple advertising; campaign was shot by the famous photographer, Annie Leibovitz.
iPod silhouettes: I think the visual imagery created for this campaign is timeless, contemporary even today and went a long way in creating a hip image for iPod
Think Different: enough has already been said about it
Mac vs PC: a strategy driven idea which expanded the Apple franchise and did it in style
– iPhone teaser launch: ‘Hello‘ – minimalism at its best
– iPhone ads focused on features & apps: the countless ‘there’s an app for that’ ads. After a while they may seem a bit jaded but did the job at that point in time
iPad Mini print ads: ingenious stuff which went to win big at award shows

I think it is crazy to belittle the contribution of the ad agency in building the Apple brand to what it is today. Only people who haven’t worked in an ad agency or with one can make such ignorant comments.

Steve Jobs or not, Apple remains consistent in it’s advertising: I think analysis to see if Apple’s advertising has gone downhill after Steve Jobs is much ado about nothing. It is not as if the quality of advertising has suddenly gone bad after Steve Jobs’ death. Yes, there have been dud campaigns like the ‘Genius Bar’ one recently; but then the Steve Jobs era too had its share of duds. If anything, Apple’s advertising has had a few common factors over the decades:

Product as hero: a majority of Apple ads have focused squarely on the product, its features and what it does. It doesn’t mean that the product is shoved under the nose of the view from the first frame. Even when the product in full happens in the last frame of the ad, it is at the centre of the creative idea. Witness the ads highlighting iPhone’s camera features, the iPad Air ad or the latest one, ‘strength’ focusing on the health apps. Not all brands in all categories can take this approach. In relatively low interest categories, an intriguing story can be told with the product reveal happening only at the end.

Specific claims, not specifications: in advertising, it is common to find wishy-washy, vague claims (‘it will change your life forever’ types). And in category advertising, it is common to rattle off a brand’s tech specifications and often that is the lead. In Apple’s case, it has almost always been about making a specific claim based on what the product does: 1000 songs in your pocket, was the message during the launch of iPod. Even when not making a specific claim, what is being conveyed is clear and focused benefit: the iPhone 5 takes great pictures, for example. The specifications are never ever mentioned and deliberately so.

Driven by consumer benefit, delivered with a twist: every claim of a product is rooted on a key selling feature and conveyed in an endearing manner. Sample these:

iPod Touch: Engineered for maximum funness.
iPod Shuffle: Small, but big on music.
Macbook Air: All the power you want. All day long
iMac. Performance and design. Taken right to the edge.

Feel good factor: Apple advertising is usually high on the feel good factor. It rarely touches upon negative emotions. Even when there is a tinge of melancholy like in the ‘misunderstood’ ad, it ends with putting a smile on the viewer’s face.

In Part 2 of this post, thoughts on internal ad agencies, client-agency relationships and more. Your thoughts? Comment in.

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