Posts tagged ‘Apple’
Last week as I watched one news report after another showing hundreds of people lined up outside Apple stores across America, all of whom hoped – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say needed – to be among the first to get the new iPhone in their pink, sweaty hands, it occurred to me that this, at least from a corporate standpoint, is what love looks like. These people were willing to suffer for a product in a way that few people in the twenty-first century are willing to suffer for a cause. For a brand, it really doesn’t get any better.*
Very few brands will ever sniff the thin air that surrounds this mountaintop. Nonetheless, it’s important to know it exists because it reminds those of us who toil within advertising’s smoky factories of what what we’re supposed to be trying to achieve. As agencies focus more and more on the arcane sciences of data analysis, ROI measurement and predictive modeling, it’s easy for advertising to begin to feel like something that’s akin to strip-mining. Don’t let it. If you’re doing it right, it’s about love. It’s about generating passion for the brands you work on. It’s about tapping into visceral desire.
So how do you get there? How do you “ladder up” (an odious bit of corporate English) to a more emotional connection between the consumer and the brand? With apologies to the great American philosopher Frank Zappa, I have borrowed and altered slightly a few phrases from a song called “Packard Goose”** (it should be noted that the lyrics owe no small debt to a T.S. Eliot poem called “The Rock”–seriously) to remind us of our obligation to elevate the brand grist we are given and turn it into something that arouses passion:
Data is not information.
Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is the only thing that matters.
When one ponders these words, it’s apparent that they’re a pretty good re-telling of the Apple story. The company has taken a bunch of ones and zeros and through a bit of sorcery transformed them into products that do extraordinary things – things for which people will leave their loved ones and the comfort of their overstuffed sofas to stand sweating with the faithful in the heat of summer. May the rest of us one day be so lucky.
* For causes, I grant you, it is a bit disheartening.
** You may find Mr. Zappa’s original lyrics here.
“I am a deeply superficial person.” -Andy Warhol
“Deeply superficial” comes close to being a perfect description of advertising. What matters about an ad is not its subtleties and hidden details; it’s what the great mass of people who are only half paying attention take away from it. Close analysis is irrelevant, unhelpful and fruitless.
Richard Rodriguez, in an article in the Wilson Quarterly about Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers Union, now widely considered something akin to a saint for his struggles (including hunger strikes) against the exploitation by big agriculture of the Mexican immigrant workers who harvest most of our fruits and vegetables, suggests that the creators of a famous Apple campaign that featured Chavez perhaps weren’t superficial enough. Somehow in an ad that was intented to be deadly earnest, they missed the clanging irony of their simple layout:
[In 1997] executives at the advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day came up with a campaign for Apple computers that featured images of some famous dead— John Lennon, Albert Einstein, Frank Sinatra— alongside a grammar-crunching motto: THINK DIFFERENT. I remember sitting in bad traffic on the San Diego Freeway and looking up to see a photograph of Cesar Chavez on a billboard. His eyes were downcast. He balanced a rake and a shovel over his right shoulder. In the upper-left-hand corner was the corporate logo of a bitten apple.
“Think Different” has been lauded as one of the great advertising campaigns of our time. Maybe it is, if you don’t think about it too hard, but I have always struggled with the idea of associating a product, something that anyone with a credit card can buy (even a product that I love as much as an Apple computer) with Ghandi, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and, yes, with Chavez. One must “think different”–and not in a good way–to fail to see the hubris in that.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple and RIM (i.e., the Blackberry guys) “accounted for only 3% of all cellphones sold in the world last year but 35% of operating profits, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Brian Modoff. The disparity will become even starker this year when, he estimates, the two will take 5% of the market in unit terms but 58% of total operating profits.” Obviously, this is jolly good news for Apple and RIM, but is it good news for marketers?
iPhones are undoubtedly one of the coolest technology products ever, and they sold 5.2 million units in the last quarter (up a staggering 626% from the same period last year), yet they still hold a very small percentage of the mobile phone market. How many brands are rushing headlong into the development of an iPhone app even when the market share numbers may not justify it? Of course, there’s something to be said for the caché of having a brand presence on the latest gadget, but I suspect the allure of that approach is fleeting in this challenging economy (at least for the clients who are paying the bills).
Robert X. Cringley has written a fascinating article called “The Future of Internet TV (in America).” You can find it in its entirety on his blog.
His argument is simple. Despite hulu.com’s growth, it’s not making any money. It’s only growing because it doesn’t have to pay writers and actors, having received unprecedented concessions from their respective guilds. Since it can’t pay its own way, it’s destined to fail. When it does, who’s going to fill the vacuum? As always, the guys with the money. And in this case, almost no one has more money that our old pal Steve Jobs at Apple. Cringley writes:
Apple has at this moment just under $29 billion in cash and not many good ways to get a reasonable return on that money. Only Microsoft has more cash than Apple and Microsoft is being pulled in a lot more directions so Microsoft doesn’t have Apple’s flexibility.
What will Apple do with that money?
Most of it will remain unspent is my prediction, but I’m guessing we’ll shortly see $3 billion or so per year go into buying Internet rights for TV shows — not old TV shows but NEW TV shows, shows of all types.
It seems all too plausible. Monetizing content is something Apple has already done brilliantly in the music business. Would anyone really be surprised if they figured out a way to do the same thing with television (to say nothing of the things we read)? Not me, brother. Always bet on the black mock turtleneck sweater.
Now and again, I like to try to imagine how media are likely to change in the future. Today I was thinking about what I’ll call high-value consumers–people with a lot of disposable income who tend to purchase products with high margins. Is it possible that a group of brands (i.e., the consumer’s constant “brand companions”) will come together to “sponsor” the media consumption of such consumers so that they no longer have to pay for cable TV, internet access, satellite radio, etc? What if, for example, BMW, Heineken, Whole Foods, British Airways, Exxon, Apple and Costco pooled their consumer intelligence data and together ascertained that consumers of a certain profile were extremely likely to use all of their products? Would it not logically follow, then, that these brands would want to do whatever is necessary to ensure that they get a hammer lock on said consumers’ wallets? The best and most effective way to do this would be to block other advertisers out of their lives as much as possible. They could do it by picking up the tab for whatever media these consumers use, and for high-value consumers, the math could make sense.
Of course, different groups of brands would emerge and align themselves with consumers of various profiles; that goes without saying. What bears some more thought, however, is how this kind of arrangement would change the advertising the consumers would see. If brands “own” consumers, will there less hard sell and more of a partnership between the brand and the consumer? Will less advertising suffice? Perhaps only PBS-style announcements that “the following program is brought to you by your friends at BMW, Apple and Whole Foods” will be more than enough. Perhaps even more to the point, will your free cable TV get yanked away from you if you buy a Lexus instead of a BMW? It probably should.
Also, what will be the effect on consumers who aren’t part of these groups of high-value consumers that are rewarded with free media? Will they do whatever is necessary–including buying brands they can’t really afford–to reap the benefits enjoyed by others, or will some other system evolve to serve them?
I think this is a fascinating idea. Please let me know if I am alone.