Feb 12

Where have Apple’s headlines gone?

Driving around LA with colleagues recently, we were greeted by iPad billboards just about everywhere we went. All shared the same clever headline: “iPad 2.”

That got my merry band wondering: when was the last time an Apple billboard or poster actually had a headline. (At least a smart headline in the Apple tradition.)

Before the “iPad 2” headline, the headline was “iPad.” The old iPod “silhouette” billboards had headlines that seemed like novels in comparison — they said “iPod + iTunes.”

I don’t mean this as an indictment. It’s simply an observation. In fact, if I were so disposed, I could rationalize both ways of thinking.

Say no to headlines!
Apple makes things simple. What could be simpler than a beautiful image and a product name? Brevity is its own form of cleverness, and a minimal number of words makes Apple stand out even more from its complicated competitors. Apple has transcended the need to explain things. If you really want more words, there are plenty of them at apple.com.

You’re blowing a major opportunity — repeatedly.
Steve Jobs himself once told me that every single ad is an opportunity to build the brand. Every time you fail to do that, it’s an opportunity lost. Now Apple is missing what its smart headlines used to add, and therefore not connecting at the same level. Those headlines are what originally gave Apple its public personality — they put Apple in a class by itself. Is it too much to ask for a few clever words?

So what gives? Has Apple lost the ability to craft a good headline? Or does it truly believe that an image and a product name is the ultimate act of advertising minimalism, and therefore a perfect representation of the Apple brand?

One argument against the latter is that the most recent images Apple has given us don’t exactly come from the adrenaline-pumping school of photography. The current iPad 2 billboard (above), in which we see a side view of Mr. Fingers picking up an iPad, is about as sleepy as it gets.

So what do you think?

Personally, I miss the little smile that used to come with seeing a great Apple ad. I get that the products are cool-looking, and the visual reminder is helpful. But those three or four words that made you think, “Damn, those guys are good” really did add another dimension to the ads.

Clearly Steve Jobs came to believe that the headlines were no longer necessary. It will be interesting to see how Apple’s creative work evolves now that others have full responsibility.

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  • Alan Williams

    A picture is worth a thousand words.

  • It would be interesting to compare it with the ads in magazines. Maybe Apple realized that people pass with their car quickly in front of billboards and the message is better to be very short there :)

  • I think it’s a great development (sorry, writer friends). No one under 30 believes (or is impacted) by a word of marketing-speak, no matter how clever. It just comes off as pitching and smarmy to them. Pictures are still seen as honest, words much less so.

  • Ashish

    According to me Apple is confident of it’s their products now. They know now everyone is aware of beauty of Apple products, no more needs any tag line to be sold.

  • Marc Haussmann

    To me clever headlines seem old-fashioned. If somebody told me to “Think different” today, I would just roll my eyes. Clever headlines belong to Bondi blue and the round shapes of the iPhone 3. They don’t fit the sober monoliths that are the iPhone 4 and the iPad.

  • Stephen Sonnenfeld

    We pine for the days of “Mental Floss.”

  • MikeP

    Let nothing get in the way of the product. The product is everything.

  • Justin

    Long complicated smart headlines no longer sell. It feels like your trying to brainwash me to be honest.
    iPad2. Easy to remember with a great image. Showing how light and two fingers only to pick up. That image is more than just a sleepy image. It’s says a lot about the interaction and experience and how easy is it to remember ipad2 into google when I get to a connected device?
    Focus on product not copy. We live in a visual society…


  • Dennis

    Honestly? Honestly!?

    I’m shocked at reading comments like “Smart headlines no longer sell”. Or what about “if someone told me to “Think Different” I would roll my eyes”. Even better is my favourite: “No one under 30 believes or is impacted by a word of marketing-speak”.

    What. What. What’s that? Says who?

    That’s a load of bullshit. The headline is gonna have an impact if it’s there, and if it’s smart. There’s always an impact. It may be negative if the text is poor, but it ALWAYS has an impact when it’s being read. A visual society? Nonsense. We don’t live in a singular world. Inputs come in many forms.

    The thing about Apple is that their Brand (right now) is so strong that the product, logo and name transcends the need for copy writing. There’s a non-written headline in their product (right now), but make no mistake – not every Brand is in such a fortunate position.

    I don’t know what the rest of you people base your comments on, but don’t forget that singularly subjective thinking is a dangerously closed road in marketing.

    Text works. It will always work.

    I love your observation, Ken. I too miss the clever Apple headlines, but I’m sure they’ll make it back when they need to launch something new. Remember the “magical and revolutionary” stuff surrounding the iPad launch? That’ll be back for Apple TV or whatever comes next.

  • This is a fascinating thread. I think some of the commenters are onto something regarding the image being the pinnacle of the marketing pyramid, with a base made up of web info, blog reviews, and word of mouth. Consumers are so wired and connected now that headlines may be less unexpected, and, therefore, less impactful than before.

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  • Gustavo

    I agree with Dennis 100%.
    I understand the simplicity of the billboards, but I miss the headlines.

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  • Engineer

    Last winter I was in Berlin. At potsdamer plats there was a massive iPad ad. It was about 10-15 stories tall and ad wide. It showed someone sitting down and using the iPad and just had the apple logo and the text iPad.

    There was no headline and it said “but an iPad for christmas, it’s the convenient casual computer.”

    This billboard you’re showing has a headline but it is the image, which says “the iPad 2 is thin and weighs little.”

    I think the impact of these carefully constructed images is more than the impact of a few words.

    Especially since it bypasses the language centers of the brain and becomes “truth”. You have no chance to be cynical, it’s simply reality.

    Seeing is believing.

    What I wonder is- why the text “iPad 2”? I guess since the product has been out less than a year they still need to tell people that it’s new and not the original iPad they are seeing.

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  • alex

    Apple has incredibly strong brands already. What would it help to add witty phrases?

    When you see “iPad 2”, that tells you everything you need to know. Everybody knows what an iPad is. Everybody knows that version 2 is going to be slimmer, faster, have newer software, and so on. And it is. Done and done.

    Same with “iPhone 4S”. The iPhone brand is so strong already that simply showing the product name and new version number practically *is* the product announcement.

    Adding witty phrases to a super-popular brand would just dilute it. Then the brand becomes about the phrase. Brands like “iPad” don’t need that. (It would be like saying “Levi’s: We Cover Your Butt!”.)

    Compare the ads for products (new and old) which were not already strong brands. For the (original) iPod, nobody knew what the heck an “iPod” was, so they have to use words. For the Macbook Air, it’s not nearly as strong a brand, and sure enough they use words to describe what’s unique about it.

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  • The message is simple: ‘We’re not competing here: we’re just kindly reminding you that you should own one of our products and you should know quite exactly why’. Quite clever if you ask me :)