Jul 10

iPhone 4: the show must go on

Apple’s new batch of iPhone 4 ads come at a most interesting time.

iPhones continue to sell like, well, iPhones — yet that thorny little reception issue keeps getting more complicated. Antenna experts debate, competitors take advantage and now even Consumer Reports lobs a grenade, apparently landing a direct hit on Apple’s sense of sportsmanship.

Let the battles rage, I say. For the moment there are new ads to review, and it’s our holy duty to answer the call.

There are four new ads in total, joining the first ad that’s been running for a while now. Like that first spot, the new ones focus on one thing and one thing only: FaceTime. That’s the killer feature, and Apple (thanks to agency TBWA\Chiat\Day) communicates with the simplicity and clarity it’s known for.

There’s a ton of humanity in each of the new spots. In fact, if you don’t take them in moderation, you may suffer an overdose of humanity.

It’s an old joke in marketing that babies and puppies are the only sure-fire hits with customers. Of the four new iPhone spots, one is about a newborn and another is about a baby-to-come. Hmm.

Here’s a quick review of each of the spots:

Meet Her. A new dad uses his iPhone to give his own father a first look at his baby girl. Touching script. Grandpa plays the part perfectly. Heavy on the sap factor, but looks great. Nice touch that the beautiful baby is confined to the mini-screen while we concentrate on the bigger image of gramps.

Haircut. This is a real charmer. It doesn’t set out so obviously to tug at your heartstrings, it’s just an everyday story — which actually makes it more powerful. You don’t feel like you’ve been “played” after you see it. You totally get how iPhone could change the way you communicate.

Smile. This spot succeeds in the same way Haircut does. Not at all heavy-handed, it’s just a moment in life made more touching by iPhone. The girl with the braces is sweet and plays the part perfectly, melting under dad’s gentle pressure in the span of 30 seconds.

Big News. Unfortunately, no matter how cool FaceTime is, you can’t help but think it’s sad that dad-to-be is getting the most important news of his life via iPhone. If the happy couple has really “been working on ‘that thing’ for a while now,” I can think of a few better ways to share this moment.

One technical quibble with these spots is the hand. In Meet Her, it feels totally natural. It moves. It’s real. In the other three spots, it’s like a piece of acrylic — unnaturally perfect and motionless, save a little shifting that appears to be added after the fact. I wonder why all the spots couldn’t have been produced with the reality of Meet Her.

I imagine these ads will work well for Apple, especially in the touchy situation they’ve created with the antenna. Connecting emotionally with customers is the best insulation against damage, and that’s been Apple’s strength for eons.

I will only note that with Apple’s transition from perennial underdog to market leader, its consumer image seems to be evolving from human & cool to human & sappy. Doubtful that Apple will slide headlong into the Hallmark Zone — but when two out of four spots are about babies and fatherhood, the puppies can’t be far behind.

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  • rd

    One of the reasons is that Steve Jobs has mellowed
    a bit due to his health difficulties, you can see that in his keynotes lately.
    He has gone full bore sentimental.

  • Alex

    I was waiting your comments on these. I totally loved them all.

  • Hahaha… bring on the puppies!

  • Chris

    Sorry, but these ads reek of copywriters and art directors—not real people. UGH! Im sure they’ll be well received but I miss the “cool” Apple. These ads are more like warm Apple pie. And we all know how America loves it’s apple pie. C’mon Apple, you can do better. Especially when it comes to writing letters blaming your customers for the way they hold their phones.

  • I already miss the clever Get a Mac ads…

  • ken segall

    You remind me of something I meant to mention. I’ve seen a few references to this campaign being the replacement for the Get A Mac campaign. It isn’t. It’s really a replacement for the previous iPhone “there’s an app for that” campaign — and whether it is a permanent replacement remains to be seen. Who knows what will take the place of Get A Mac…

  • Paul

    What does it say when you’ve said more about the antenna problem than Apple? I assume they’re working on the problem in the background but do you think they’re handling this properly? So far their publicity has been Job’s “don’t hold it that way” and deleting posts related to the issue from their forums.

    Have sales been affected, I have no idea, probably not too badly but nobody knows. Perhaps by not commenting they are handling this the right way?

    Ken, as a marketing expert, how about a post on crisis management with suggestions how you deal with a problem like this before it turns into another Intel Pentium flaw-like issue that took 2 months from discovery to voluntary recall, and a case in Harvard Business Review.


  • ken segall

    I don’t imagine anyone thinks Apple has handled this well. A few more thoughts on this topic coming tomorrow, for what it’s worth…