Feb 11

Motorola saves us from the evil Apple

Some ads fail the old-fashioned way. They lack the traditional ingredients of creative thinking and/or smart strategy.

Other ads lose all restraint and fail on a higher level. They not only lack the right ingredients, they wrap their message in a grand idealistic vision, and pretend it is their driving motivation.

Congratulations,  Motorola, for taking it to Level 2.

After the ominous music and titles describing a totalitarian state, we’re told that because Motorola’s tablet is here, “it’s time to live a free life.” Holy cow, that’s thick.

Of course it’s not hard to understand why Motorola would go this route. Like everyone else jumping on the tablet bandwagon, they officially fall in the “follower” category. They face a most formidable competitor who has more than a full year head start. Plus, they aren’t exactly unique. They belong to a fleet of Android tablets coming to save us from the mass delusion that has led us to false happiness.

Motorola (and some of the others) actually does have certain advantages over iPad, at least in the hardware department. There are a thousand creative ways they could have made that point if they had a little imagination. Instead they chose to reveal these advantages by putting themselves on a pedestal, proclaiming themselves to be the hero, appointing themselves the defender of freedom.

This is offensive in the sense that it is manipulative. It tries to get us nodding our heads — and handing over our cash — by hijacking one of our most treasured values. Basically, Motorola is saying that if you love liberty, you should buy their product.

It’s not only offensive, it’s a rip-off of others’ offensive strategies. You’ll recall that after Apple banned Flash, Adobe proclaimed itself the champion of freedom. And last year Google depicted Apple as the evil anti-choice entity at their I/O Conference.

I don’t imagine a lot of people will be gathering in town square to rally for the heroic Motorola.

Never mind that their logic is absurd. They dismiss the fact that throughout history, Apple has been the one company who gave us choice when the big guys dictated the standards. Mac was the pesky upstart against the PC. iPod and iTunes forced the big record companies to change their evil ways. iPhone went up against the monoliths who controlled mobile communications. iPad finally gave us another choice vs. the PC companies’ netbooks and ill-conceived tablets. If anyone can claim to be the liberator, it’s Apple. Fortunately, Apple has the good sense to not to pose as the defender of humanity’s most precious value.

Motorola’s implication is that Apple is out for itself, while they (Motorola) are the ones fighting for the public good. Freedom of choice, with no restrictions. In truth, every moneymaking venture on earth is protective of its critical assets. Even Motorola. They protect what makes them unique, or fade into obscurity. Personally, I’m still fuming that Coca-Cola won’t reveal their secret formula. How dare they not give me the freedom to tweak the recipe so it’s perfect for my tastes.

I find the whole good vs. evil argument to be as toxic in marketing as it is in politics. Yet there will always be individuals and companies who choose this path. But we’re not talking politics here. When people buy a phone or tablet, they’re not voting for good or evil. They’re simply picking the device they like best.

We all know that Apple is controlling. Time after time, they explain why they are controlling. They take action to ensure that their customers get the Apple-quality experience they’re looking for. We also know that if we find Apple’s product philosophy so unsettling, we can simply go out and buy a competitor’s device. Like Motorola’s.

Motorola’s “it’s time to be free” ad is rumored to be running on the Super Bowl this weekend. No one needs to be reminded that this is the same venue where Apple ran the legendary 1984 commercial that Motorola is referencing. Whereas Apple’s ad stood head and shoulders above all the other ads of its time, Motorola’s ad will simply be one of the bunch. Very possibly, much like their tablet.

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  • jay

    Better watch out for Google.
    Oh no i forgot. Google isn’t evil.
    Google isn’t in bed with the NSA.
    Go back to bed America.

  • Apple Turnover

    Motorola won’t even be able to save itself from bankruptcy. What a crappy company Moto is. First quarter since splitting and they’re already bleeding and predicting future losses. Nobody is buying their products in quantity. After seeing how poorly their smartphones are selling, it appears the Xoom will be fated for the same results. This company does not belong in the tablet or smartphone market. They’re just a sock puppet for Google and a poorly made one at that.

    Even though there are many Android vendors profiting from using the free Android OS, Motorola is still losing money. Don’t count on any great products coming from them. The company’s management is made up of incompetent and likely crooked individuals. Stop hyping Motorola products. They’re just smoke and mirrors and little else. Motorola should not even be mentioned in the same sentence with Apple. That’s how far apart these companies are as far as quality and success are concerned

  • Paul

    Ken, I do agree with you that the advert is lousy, not particularly creative. I’m not sure I share your vitriol for it though.

    Apple has become the monolith that they fought against in 1984. How else do you attack someone with 97% tablet market share (last year)? Apple created the anti-monolith advert with their famous super bowl ad and “Think Different” and “I”m a Mac, You’re a PC” Motorola is using the exact same arguments that Apple has used for years.

    The days of Apple the underdog are over because they did such a great job. Like I said, it’s a bad ad, but to knock Motorola for using the same techniques Apple used to get where they are, I can’t agree with.

    PS. Regarding controlling, they are not simply protecting the “Apple-quality experience”, that’s drinking the Kool Aid. Just look at today’s news about their rejection of the Sony EReader app:


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  • Don

    Great post, well written and on the spot.

    When it comes to Android enabled devices, it’s interesting to note that Android never really took off until Google decided that they were free and open enough to infringe Apple’s patents and basically apply anything, like zoom-to-pinch and other multi-touch patents, any old way they wanted too!

    We’ll see if the courts also think that Google is free and open to simply take what others have developed and patented and use as they believe, but that others are not free and open to use Google’s search algorithms, for exampl.Google and its Android partners view being free and open the same way that the Iranian government does!

  • Bobby

    Paul, does Sony sell xbox software on their site? For free?

    It is Apple’s site. The rules are no in-app additional sales that do not go though the Apple app store. It is only a reader. They could do what Amazon did and redirect kindle book purchases to their own site on a browser for the ebook purchases.

    It leaves apple out of the copyright issues and out of problems with mistaken purchases, problems etc. No money from the Sony ebooks sales to apple – get off the apple site and buy on the browser.

  • Bobby

    Don said “Apple has become the monolith that they fought against in 1984. How else do you attack someone with 97% tablet market share (last year)?”

    Other companies have fail to make a dent in that market for years now. Apple did not hinder their ability to make a worthwhile product – the others just did not until Apple showed them what Apple thought people would buy. It seems in less than a year of sales Apple has proven there is a market for the type of tablet Apple designed. What type of hallucinogen are you taking? (the “kool aid” thing is a bit tired)

  • Bobby

    Sorry – Paul said – “Apple has become the monolith that they fought against in 1984. How else do you attack someone with 97% tablet market share (last year)?”

  • Many ads for non-Apple mobile devices — including this one — focus too hard on numbers that are completely abstract to the layperson. 1GHz! 1080p! 3.0 Honeycomb! What do these things mean? How do they give me more freedom?

  • Paul

    @Bobby – Here’s a better explanation of Apple’s changed requirement: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/technology/01apple.html Still think that Apple is preserving the Apple-quality experience or preserving cash flow? That’s what I mean about the Kool Aid. Sorry you don’t like my choice of phrases.

    I don’t understand what your other comment is saying. When IBM/PC was the monolith Apple said the exact same things that Motorola is now. Are you suggesting Motorola is hindering Apple with that ad? Seriously?

    @Josh, you’re right. It’s a bad advert focused on fanboys who care about this stuff. If this keeps up Ipad2 will eat them for lunch.

  • ChuckO

    One of the most interesting things to me is that (as I understand it) a major theme of 1984 is the obfuscation of the truth through the use of bureaucratic legalese leading to the loss of the majority being able or willing to deal with nuance and detail.

    Also what does “1984” mean to broad audience at this point? Especially outside of a small percent of the population who understand it primarily through the Apple ad! Motorola using it at this point is like a tenth generation xerox, faded past the point of usefulness.

  • Steve W, Indialantic FL

    You guys miss the whole point of the 1984 commercial. Apple was not attacking the IBM PC hardware or PC-DOS. Apple was attacking the idea that the “Personal Computer” is a business machine. Apple was attacking the idea that “Personal Computers” be controlled by an IT department. Apple was attacking the idea that people buy – for their homes – computers just like the one they use at work.

    At MacWorld in 1997, Apple conceded that it lost that battle. Pundits associated the “Big Brother” in the 1984 commercial with the larger than life image of Bill Gates in that MacWorld keynote. (Maybe that was the plan?)
    Apple surrendered the “Office” to Microsoft, and focused on personal uses. They offered candy colored computers and the iLife suite. The new focus seems to be working.

    What is Motorola offering? Android and Flash! Why?

  • ken segall

    In an earlier draft of this post, I rambled on about the uselessness of using the 1984 comparison at this point. It only cut it for length issues. But since you brought it up — yes, I agree completely. I’m sure most observers of the industry understand the reference, but when talking to a mass audience, it’s just confusing. If you choose to go down this path strategically, then by all means compare Apple to “Big Brother” (a concept people understand) or to paint them as control-freaks — but trying to cleverly knock Apple by referring to 1984 isn’t likely to connect with the audience. Even if you’re talking about the book and not Apple, it’s a bad idea. The book isn’t the everyday knowledge today that it was back in the 80s.

  • ken segall

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare what Apple did in 1984 to what Motorola is doing today. As other commenters have noted, in 1984 there was scant little “personal” technology. Big companies were churning out PCs for business IT buyers. There were no smartphones or laptops. There were no technology companies seriously committed to enabling mere humans like us. The 1984 commercial was a dramatization of a fictional world designed to make the point that we’re people, dammit, and we deserve a computer made with us in mind.

    Motorola’s situation today is different. They are not the heroes bringing freedom to a world bound in slavery. Even if you buy nothing but Apple technology, and live within every rule Apple makes, you have an extraordinary wealth of technology and apps to choose from. You can express yourself in ways people could never have dreamed a decade ago. Motorola is “freeing” us to do little more than we already do (arguably, less actually) — yet they are making themselves out to be the great emancipator.

    This is why a lovable guy such as myself (joke!) reviews this ad with the “vitriol” you felt. In marketing, every ad has a message (“We have better hardware features than iPad”) and an execution (“Our tablet will free you from tyranny!”). A message can be executed in infinite ways. I take issue with Motorola because of the creative path they chose. They decided to appoint themselves the champion of freedom —in a world where most of us are already free. Freedom is a treasured human value. I think Motorola cheapens it when they use it as a transparent marketing tool to sell one capable tablet over another.

  • Peter

    Bobby, step away from the kool-aide.

    Look, I don’t entirely disagree with you. It’s Apple’s store and they can do what they want. However, your argument of “Does Sony sell Xbox software on their site?” ignores one simple thing.

    The App Store is the only store.

    In this case, it’s anti-competitive. If I want to buy books inside Apple’s reader, it’s no problem. Why shouldn’t a developer be able to offer the same experience that Apple offers inside their competing reader?

  • laviking

    Don’t use Sony’s eReader app as an argument here. Apple has every right to protect it’s customer data. It’s Apple’s marketing $ that attracted their customers in the first place. Why allow Sony to undermine your business by giving Sony free access to those same customers. Do you think Sony would let Apple sell direct and collect customer information on PlayStation Network? Of course not. Don’t be absurd.

  • laviking


    selling the books through the eReader is not the issue. The issue is controlling the transaction the who gets access to the customer information. Sony can sell all the books through their app that they want to apple customers. Apple just wants to control the transaction so customer anonymity is maintained. Sony can easily make that change and their app will be approved.

  • frac

    Apple’s terms are pretty unambiguous and are unchanged.
    Apple’s App Store Guidelines clearly state, “Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected. Apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application will be rejected.”

  • Loren R

    Ken, I think that you are critiquing an ad that you haven’t seen. This YouTube video plainly says “ad teaser”. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the real ad (which will likely be completely different). -Loren

  • ken segall

    You may very well be right. I had seen a reference in one or two other places that said this ad might be running on the Super Bowl. Given the frequency with which YouTube posters mangle English, I also thought someone might have titled it “Super Bowl Ad Teaser” when they actually meant “teaser ad that will appear on the Super Bowl.” I stand by my review of this particular ad whether it’s a real ad or a pre-ad ad. And, of course, I will anxiously be watching the Super Bowl to see if another ad does follow. (I certainly won’t be watching the football part!)

  • Cory

    “I’m sure most observers of the industry understand the reference, but when talking to a mass audience, it’s just confusing.”

    I agree… but one more point… the people who remember the 1984 Apple commercials will tend to be the people like us, people that are already loyal customers of Apple. The rest of the people like you said will just be confused and not get the commercial or the dig against Apple. So I don’t get how pissing off Apple customers, the only customers that the ad could target, will help sales of Motorola’s tablet(s).

    So if their aim was to target non-Apple customers, then they should compare themselves against the other tablet makers (or wannabe makers) and if their aim was to target loyal Apple customers that would remember “1984” then they shouldn’t start by putting us on the defensive. I’m a loyal Apple customer like you Ken… but if Motorola (or anyone else) created something better… an overall better experience, then we’d put our money there. Motorola and the entire PC and/or smart phone industry should concentrate on building that first… then advertise this “truly better” concept to us and explain to us why it’s better.