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Hi, I'm Sean Oliver.

I'm a product marketer living in San Francisco, CA and working at Optimizely. This is my personal blog where I write about marketing, startups, and life.

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Sean Oliver

Why Apple's New Ads Look Like Microsoft Made Them

I have to admit that I agree with the cacophony of criticism about Apple’s latest round of TV ads. In fact, I almost had an allergic reaction to them when I first saw them air during the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.

They looked and felt like ads that my former employer, Microsoft, used to release in attempt to position themselves as being relevant.

So many issues abound:

  • They don’t show the product. This is a product ad, not a brand ad or a perception ad. And Apple has always impressed me by the way that they have (almost) always made the product the star of their product ads. Consumers need to see what’s being advertised in order to understand the messaging in a tangible way.

  • They don’t explain the product. Apple doesn’t always show the product in its ads. A great example of this is the Mac vs. PC campaign that ran through the first half of the 2000s. But that campaign still made the product the star by focusing on each ad on a discrete feature or set of related features, and explaining how they work. That’s something that this campaign utterly fails at doing. In the ad above, the Genius asks the shopper, “It came loaded with all the great apps like iMovie, iPhoto, Garageband… Not ringing a bell?" The consumer at whom this ad is targeted doesn’t know what these apps are. As a result, he doesn’t know why he should care that he doesn’t have them. And if the ad doesn’t tell him that, he’s just going to hear marketing noise and tune out.

  • They make the target audience feel stupid. This is Apple’s first real effort going after a less tech-savvy group of computer buyers, and this ad makes it clear that they really don’t know how to talk to them at all. The people in this segment are not idiots, in fact, a lot of them are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and otherwise very smart people.They just don’t think about the latest technology all that much, and this ad basically calls them stupid for not buying a Mac. When consumers buy PCs, they are usually doing it after lots of research — after all, it’s a big purchase for most people — and this ad is essentially telling them they made the wrong decision despite all the thought they put into making what they thought was the right one.

  • They make the Geniuses look like unsupportive know-it-alls. In a similar vein, the Apple Genius in this ad comes off as a true embodiment of the elitist stereotype many have attributed to Apple’s core customer. When Apple first introduced the Geniuses, they worked because they weren’t that stereotype. No one wants to buy a computer from a cocky teenager who thinks their questions are stupid and that they’re wasting his time.

  • There’s no clear call to action. I’ve alluded to this a little already, but the most important thing missing from this ad is that there’s absolutely zero payoff. No moral. No happy ending. Nothing to tell the consumer what they should take away and do next. They don’t even explain that these “friendly" Geniuses can be found right by where you live at your local Apple Store. This is a product ad targeted at people who don’t know anything about the product, and Apple fails in the most fundamental way by not telling them anything about it or even where to buy it. When I was with Microsoft, I saw vapid creative like this get created and published all the time. It wasn’t because people at Microsoft didn’t know what they were doing. There were and there continue to be a lot of extremely talented people at Microsoft.

Collateral like this happens when there is no creative vision coming down from senior leaders. When leaders delegate the vision downward, middle managers end up having to make the final call, but in almost all cases they don’t have the power to do so alone. So, they go about securing buy-off from multiple teams, and the result was leadership by committee. Not exactly the Apple way.

There’s been much said about whether Tim Cook can steer the great ship that is Apple into another decade of innovation. While he may still be getting his sea legs, this ad along with other marketing blunders over the past few months make it clear that this is no longer Steve Jobs’ Apple, for better or for worse.