Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Creating Brilliance Out of Thin Air

November 10th, 2013

I like to say that if a company is getting its advertising right, it’s probably doing other things right as well.  It’s hard to think of a company that better epitomizes that statement than Apple.

Which means that, judging by this new TV commercial, the iPad Air is probably one helluva product.

The ad cleverly makes you think that it’s extolling the many simple virtues of the venerable No. 2 pencil, all the while engaging your interest by slowly zooming in to the changing graphics as said pencil looms larger and larger in the foreground.  The spot ends with the iPad Air being revealed from behind the pencil, a very effective way of conveying that the Air is pencil-thin.

In fact, the ad is so well-produced that half-way through it I started to suspect that it was for an Apple product.  But while that might have slightly spoiled the surprise ending for me, it didn’t affect my perception that the new iPad Air–and anything made by Apple–is best in its class.

So while the pencil might be No. 2, Apple is clearly No. 1.

iPad Mini Ad Hits All the Right Notes

November 16th, 2012

The best commercials are the simplest, and it doesn’t get much simpler than this TV commercial for the iPad Mini.

No announcer.  No claims.  Nothing but 28 seconds of pure entertainment and 2 seconds showing the brand name.  Yet you know within the first few seconds that this must be an iPad commercial.  Which means you’re probably going to want to watch it through to the end, since Apple commercials are always imminently watchable.  In this particular case, even the last note of the commercial is well thought out–the perfect finishing touch.

What I love most is how brilliantly–and incredibly simply–this spot conveys that the Mini does everything the regular iPad does.  They don’t tell you that.  And they only demonstrate one feature of the product.  Yet it leaves no doubt that, as their print advertising cleverly claims, the Mini is “Every inch an iPad.”

And this commercial is every second a masterpiece.

Google’s Actions Betray Its Users and Its Brand

February 17th, 2012

“Google Inc. and other advertising companies have been bypassing the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple Inc.’s Web browser on their iPhones and computers—tracking the Web-browsing habits of people who intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked.”

If you read that opening sentence from this Wall Street Journal article and had never heard of Google Inc. before, what would your impression of the company be?  Probably that it must be a sleazy, unethical, untrustworthy company with which you you never want to do business.

It’s been said that your brand isn’t defined by what you say but what you do.  If that’s true–and I think it is–then Google’s actions have put a significant dent in its brand equity.

This isn’t the first time Google has compromised its users’ privacy, and Facebook and others have been guilty of similar violations.  Perhaps the phenomenal success experienced by Google and Facebook has left their leaders feeling that they are someone immune from the ethical standards by which the rest of us play.  And, for the most part, their users do seem to have looked the other way rather taking these companies to task for their behavior.  I have to believe, however, that  sooner or later these serious ethical lapses are going to take a serious toll on the loyalty of their users and hence on the sky-high stock prices that Google and others command.

One of the many things Google does well is to creatively modify their logo to celebrate holidays and other special occasions.  I suggest that until they regain their ethical bearings, they modify their iconic “I feel lucky” tag to read “I feel violated.”

T-Mobile Rates an “L” for “Laziness” (and “Lobby”)

April 29th, 2011

When I was in my late twenties, I was a Marketing Director for a very large family-owned consumer products company.  The septuagenarian owner/CEO of the company, while an absolutely brilliant businessman, had a hard time appreciating truly novel, breakthrough marketing ideas.  Instead, he preferred what he considered to be the “safety” of knocking off marketing ideas that appeared to be successful for other companies.  Once, in the middle of an important meeting, he took a competitor’s magazine ad out of his suit pocket and asked, “Why can’t we do this?” I responded, “With all due respect, sir, because they’re already doing it.”

I can’t prove it, but I have a hunch that the CEO or VP Marketing of T-Mobile recently asked their ad agency, “Why can’t we do advertising like Apple?” And the result is this shameful knockoff of Apple’s classic “Mac and PC” ad campaign.  I’ve seen several ads from this campaign, and I can’t recall a single thing these ads have said.  I’m too busy wishing I were watching a “Mac and PC” ad…and thinking that I would never patronize a company that can’t think for itself.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in marketing, it’s also the surest sign of creative and strategic laziness.

Microsoft Needs to Be a Good Orange, Not a Bad Apple

December 9th, 2010


Perhaps the wisest words I’ve ever read about branding strategy are attributed to the late, great Jerry Garcia, who once said:  “The idea isn’t to make people think you’re the best at what you do; it’s to make them think you’re the only one who does what you do.”

If there’s one company on the planet that’s in sync with Mr. Garcia, it’s Apple. (Interestingly, the only other one that comes immediately to mind is Pixar, another company largely shaped by the DNA of Steve Jobs.)  And if there’s a company that doesn’t groove on Mr. Garcia’s vibe, it’s Microsoft.   In fact, Microsoft doesn’t even try to make you think they’re the best at what they do; rather, they’re trying to make you think they’re just like Apple.

But Microsoft will never be like Apple, any more than Bill Gates will ever be like Steve Jobs.  Let’s face it:  Jobs is cool; Gates is geeky.  Apple is cool; Microsoft is–well, it might not be geeky, but it certainly isn’t cool.  And that’s okay!

Sadly, as an article in the Chicago Tribune indicates, the new Microsoft stores are embarrassingly similar to Apple stores.  The problem isn’t that the stores aren’t nice; it’s that they aren’t original.  Since everyone knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Microsoft is simultaneously reinforcing that Apple is worthy of emulation while making itself  look like a plagiarizer.

Microsoft needs to get over its genius-envy and embrace the things that make it unique.  For example, it could position itself as “everyman” (in subtle contrast to Apple’s “snob”) by emphasizing:

  • The affordability of Windows-based products
  • Its support of the very popular Flash media format
  • The dramatically larger number of products and programs that use its operating system

When Toyota was at its peak, it didn’t try to make you think it was like Mercedes Benz, nor did Budweiser in its best days try to make you think it was like Heineken. They took pride in who they were–and, oh, by the way, they were the market leaders.

Microsoft is also a market leader, yet its actions reflect insecurity rather than pride. Apple and Microsoft are as different as apples and oranges.  It’s time Microsoft embraced that fact.

After all, oranges are more popular than apples.

Windows Phone Commercial Fails to Complete the Call. Really.

November 9th, 2010

Exactly when did it become cool to ask, “Really?” to express one’s disappointment or anger?  I think I first started noticing it on Cougartown, one of my and my wife’s favorite TV shows.  Used properly, as it is in this  TV commercial for the Windows Phone, and it can be pretty amusing.  This commercial also effectively dramatizes in humorous fashion the ridiculous and even dangerous obsession many of us–present company included–have with our mobile phones.

But while this spot does a nice job of showing us the problem and entertaining us in the process, it does nothing to explain why the Windows Phone is the solution.  Presumably it’s somehow designed to make many tasks simpler and quicker to perform, but if that’s the case, show us how!  Rather than humoring us with repeated demonstrations of the problem, wow us with one or two demonstrations of the solution.

Apple ads–whether they be for the iPod, iPhone, iTouch, iMac or MacBook–have knocked our socks off again and again with simple but impressive demonstrations of their products’ amazing performance.  If the Windows Phone really is a significant improvement over the status quo, it should certainly lend itself to a very impressive presentation.  This commercial, however, leaves me thinking, “Either there’s nothing really special about this phone, or Microsoft has created one of the most underachieving commercials of all time.”

The commercial makes one other fatal mistake: it says the brand name only once, and doesn’t do so until the 55-second point.  This destines the commercial to join the seemingly endless list of relatively entertaining commercials that communicated virtually nothing to the target audience about who the advertiser is or what makes the product special.

It’s enough to make a guy want to call Steve Ballmer and say, “You supposedly have a truly superior mobile phone, and this is the way you advertise it?  Really?

With Southwest, Bags–and Gags–Fly Free

October 6th, 2010

Today I enjoyed the services of one of my “hero companies”:  Southwest Airlines.  Hero companies are those that do virtually everything well:  great products, great service, great people, great marketing.  There aren’t many companies on the list; Apple and Starbucks are definitely on it, and so is Southwest.

Southwest is one of the most underrated businesses of all time in my opinion.  For them to be the most (and often the only) profitable airline year after year after year is nothing short of amazing, particularly when you consider that they do it despite charging extremely low fares.  I also love the fact that they’ve further separated themselves by refusing to charge for bags while their competitors nickle and dime their customers–and their brand equity–to death.

But what might best differentiate Southwest from the competition is not only the way they motivate their employees, but the way the leverage their employees’ morale to enhance the customer experience.

I shot the above photos today with my Blackberry in the jetway  of my plane as I was boarding a flight from Chicago to Denver.  The life-size photos of Southwest employees smiling and waving at you made for a very warm and surprising welcome.  And what was particularly impressive was how genuine the smile was on each and every person.  I found myself thinking, “Man, these people really love working for this company.”  And then I found myself smiling too, which is not something I’m used to doing when I board an airplane.

And it didn’t stop there.  From takeoff to landing, the flight attendants and the flight crew were engaging and smart…and very funny.  After reciting the mandatory instructions about how to use the flotation device in the event of a “water landing” (my all-time favorite euphemism, BTW), the flight attendant added, “So you can just paddle around until the Coast Guard arrives.”  He then took us through the oxygen mask drill, telling us that if you’re traveling with a child, you should put your mask on first before putting the mask on the child.  He then added, “And if you’re traveling with two children–(dramatic pause)–pick whichever one you think has the most potential.”

Both jokes were delivered with impeccable timing.  And both were non-politically correct, which fits perfectly with the image of a company whose brilliant former CEO Herb Kelleher was known for chain-smoking, swigging Wild Turkey, and publicly arm-wrestling his fellow CEOs.  This is a company with an attitude–and a very infectious one at that!

A big part of making customers loyal to your brand is getting them to think of the brand in personal terms, to feel like they know and like the people behind the brand, and to believe that those people care sincerely about their happiness.  That can be hard to pull off when you’re a manufacturer, but when you’re in the service business, you have hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of opportunities each day to have your employees build your brand equity with every customer encounter.

Unfortunately, very few service companies get that, but Southwest Airlines certainly does.  And that’s why their brand equity continues to fly as high as their shareholders equity.

AT&T and Blackberry Don’t Carry a Torch for Branding

August 25th, 2010

What do you get when two companies with an aversion to effective branding join forces to bring an exciting new product to market? In the case of AT&T and Blackberry, a  TV commercial that entertains but fails to effectively drive home the name of the advertisers providing the entertainment.

The premise of the commercial is simple: there’s a new smartphone that makes it fun to do business, and the visuals and voiceover cleverly make that point.  The new phone–the Blackberry Torch–makes a lot of sense strategically for Blackberry given its focus on the business market and the fact that it’s been losing market share to the superior “wow factor” of Apple’s iPhone.  And from the reviews I’ve read, the Torch is being very warmly received by the technology writers.

Unfortunately, viewers of this commercial hear the brand names “AT&T” and “Blackberry” twice and once, respectively, while “Torch” is nevered uttered.  (The word appears on screen for less than two seconds at the end of the spot.) Anyone who’s read about the Torch will have to be paying extremely close attention to realize that it’s the product being showcased–or not–in this commercial.

It doesn’t help that the lyrics of the background song–Buddy Holly’s “Every Day”–aren’t particularly pertinent to the product’s positioning.  The song is cute, but it doesn’t sell.

For as long as I’ve been in this business, I’ve been both amazed and appalled by how many marketers are reluctant to leverage their brands in their advertising.  It’s almost as if they feel it’s crass or in poor taste to call too much attention to their brand name.  The best marketers, however,  realize that branding doesn’t have to be boring.

In other words, if AT&T and Blackberry can combine business with fun in their product, why can’t they do it in their advertising?

Will Apple Admit That It Has a Worm?

July 15th, 2010

For the past several years, I’ve considered Apple to be the best marketing organization on the planet.  Their ability to anticipate–and, more impressively, create–consumer desires has been without parallel, as has their penchant for product design and advertising.  Now, however, we’ll get a chance to see how good they are at crisis management.

As this Wall Street Journal article shows, it seems clear that Apple’s vaunted product design team–including legendary co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs–dropped the ball in developing Apple’s new iPhone 4.  The otherwise well-reviewed device appears to have reception problems that result from a faulty antenna design that wasn’t subjected to adequate testing.

Surprisingly–and disappointingly–Apple’s initial reaction was to cavalierly suggest that the problem was the result of users holding the phone improperly.  They then copped to a software glitch, which they inexplicably tried to minimize by suggesting that it affects their earlier-generation iPhones as well.  And now both explanations are being challenged by Consumer Reports, which claims the problems are hardware-related.

Whatever the truth is–and all signs seem to support Consumer Reports’ side–Apple had better be completely forthcoming from this point forward or its credibility, and its brand equity, will take a serious hit.  Apple and Mr. Jobs have been on an infallibility streak for several years, so admitting they’ve screwed up will hurt.  But Apple’s fans–and prospective future consumers–will forgive imperfection much more readily than dishonesty or cowardice.

Apple has produced millions of sweet, crisp, juicy products that have thrilled millions of consumers–including me–and in the process created a company worth more than Microsoft or General Electric.  But if they don’t start displaying more candor, humility and urgency in confronting this rare misstep, they run a real risk of letting this one bad Apple spoil the bunch–not to mention a bunch of brand equity.

The Gap Could Be Back

December 8th, 2009

In the 1990s, The Gap was one of the hottest retailers in the country–in part because it was one of the savviest advertisers on the planet. In many respects their TV ads were every bit as uplifting, refreshing and fashion-forward then as Apple’s iPod ads are today. Unfortunately, for some reason they lost their way both strategically and creatively, as it’s hard to recall any Gap ads from this decade.

But if their new “Talk to the Moose” holiday ad is any indication, The Gap just might be returning to its former form. This ad features dozens of extremely cute and appealing girls of all ages, dancing and rapping to an infectious beat while–get this!–showing off The Gap’s latest winter wear. Result: the rare entertaining commercial that isn’t afraid to sell product!

I’m not necessarily saying that it’s time to buy stock in The Gap. But, then again, it might not be a bad idea to talk to your broker–and to the moose!