30
Jul 12

New Mac ads: landing with a serious thud

[Update 9.23.12: Apple has pulled all of the Genius ads from its website and YouTube channel. Personal postings have been removed as well. Sorry, looks like all evidence has been destroyed.}

Repeat after me: “The sky is not falling. The sky is not falling.”

I know it’s hard to say after viewing the new batch of Mac ads that debuted on the Olympics. I’m still in a bit of shock myself.

Sure, Apple has had a low point or two in its advertising past — but its low points are usually higher than most advertisers’ high points.

This is different. These ads are causing a widespread gagging response, and deservedly so. I honestly can’t remember a single Apple campaign that’s been received so poorly.

This thing is so upsetting, it has me talking to myself:

“Ken, you’re missing the obvious. Clearly these ads are targeted at first-timers, not for you.”

That’s a seemingly logical defense. It’s also a horrible one. How many great campaigns have you seen that appeal to one target group, but turn off everyone else? There’s no excuse for a campaign like that. Apple’s momentum is fueled by the enthusiasm of its core customers. The last thing it wants is to win new customers at the cost of looking ridiculous to its enthusiastic supporters.

“But how can one campaign appeal to both crowds?”

How soon we forget. If it pleases the court, I present Exhibit A: the now-legendary Mac vs. PC campaign, which delivered 66 fantastic ads over a period of four years. Like the new campaign, Mac vs. PC was also aimed at switchers, but guess what — it was a massive hit with every level of Mac owner, from novice to pro. Those ads actually galvanized the Mac crowd to heavy up on the preaching. And look at the iPad ads. They’re hugely attractive to people who never got the technology bug. But they’re also alluring to those who have been using computers for years. Hmm. Maybe it can be done? To defend the new Mac ads by saying “Hey, they’re not aimed at you” is just a naive view of advertising.

“The Apple Genius idea is really rich. What’s your problem?”

Actually, I agree. The “idea” is pretty good. I’m not convinced it’s worthy of an ongoing campaign, but there is some good comedy in the basic concept. The problem is, a good idea is only half of the winning formula in advertising. The other half is execution — and that’s where this campaign went south.

“Be honest now. That Genius guy is perfectly cast.”

You’re kidding, right? He does an excellent job of fitting the stereotype of an Apple Store Genius, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. These spots are actually cast as if they’re sitcoms — with exaggerated characters like the father-to-be in Labor Day, or the passenger in Mayday, or the sleezy PC store owner in Basically. The spots try to make their points through comedy alone, with little sense of authenticity in characters or situations.

“I laughed out loud more than once.”

I did think that concept of Mayday was funny. But the smiles were mighty hard to come by after that. If you’re going to go the sitcom route — and that’s a very big “if” — you’ll need some writers who are up to the task. The script for Basically just makes me squirm. It’s like going to open mike night at the local comedy club.

“I did wonder if it was a good idea to make customers seem so clueless.”

Therein lies another problem with this campaign. In the effort to show that the Genius is the most helpful guy in the world, Apple has created customers who, shall we say, are on the dim side. In past ads, Apple has shown “ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” simply because Apple products are so easy to use. Now we have thick people who want to be better, but need a Genius to help. Not exactly flattering.

“But the Genius is a great hook. This campaign could go on forever.”

Please, kill me now. Nothing would depress me more. With the Mac vs. PC campaign, Apple created fictional characters who together told an engaging story. There seemed to be infinite ways to keep the stories fresh. This is different. The idea of creating a “character” from an Apple employee is… well…. damn, I can’t even say this without feeling awful… it feels like something Best Buy would do. Maybe even Dell. Between the writing, casting, directing and production, this campaign has a very “local” feel to it. It doesn’t have the feel of quality that has defined previous Apple advertising.

“These ads are very unexpected. Isn’t that what Apple’s all about?”

It’s great to be unexpected. But if you’re not true to the brand, being unexpected just makes you look silly. The Mac vs. PC campaign was unexpected, but its cleverness was in sync with the Apple brand. Absolutely, these ads are very unexpected for Apple — just not of the quality we’re used to.

“You don’t think these ads are a hoot? Some of the gags hit my funny bone.”

You’re scaring me. Stop talking like that. The point is that Apple has always had an intelligent wit. This campaign, not so much.

“My friends think it’s great.”

Well, I can only give you my opinion. However, I will add that within 24 hours of these ads hitting the air, I got a load of email from Apple fans who were terribly disappointed. Not one positive comment. What I did get were comments like “I’m speechless,” “Atrocity” and “Horrifically bad.” Honestly, I’ve never seen such a reaction before. So again, if your defense is that people like us are not the target, snap out of it. I seriously doubt that Apple wants its loyal customers to feel this kind of embarrassment.

“Well, your friends are as deluded as you.”

I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. The reactions out in the real world seem to be at least as negative as the ones I’ve received. I was struck by the Tweet from Jean Louis–Gassée, former Apple head of Macintosh, which said “Ouch! Cringe-inducing new Apple ‘Genius’ ads for Mac.” Reader comments on various articles are even more colorfully negative. Apple can’t be happy about this.

“Sorry, but Apple and its agency have a lot of smart people. Surely they know what they’re doing.”

I’m totally with you on that. That’s what so many people find perplexing. How does a campaign like this come out of such a smart and creative group? One can’t help but wonder what kind of debate took place leading up to this. Or maybe there was no debate and all parties thought this would be a killer campaign. If that’s the case, I hope this experience causes some serious introspection.

“Do you think Steve Jobs would have approved these ads?”

Now you’re making me mad. I will never answer a “What would Steve do” question and I hate it when people speculate like that. None of us can possibly know what Steve would do. Steve was a master marketer, but he was also perfectly capable of a lapse in judgment. It’s unfortunate that this campaign is appearing now, nine months after Steve passed away, because the timing only fuels the argument that everything will crumble now that Steve is gone. I don’t buy that.

The truth is, advertising is hard. A lot of really talented people at Chiat pour their hearts into creating the ads that we critique. As you know, Apple’s ads succeed far more often than they fail — just like Apple itself. Every one of us, Steve Jobs included, has experienced failure. It may sound trite, but it’s how one responds to failure and what one learns from the experience that defines character, whether you’re an individual or a corporation.

“So is the sky falling or not? You’re confusing me.” 

The fact is, bad ads happen. And sometimes they happen to really good people. The tragedy would be if Apple acted like a politician and dug in its heels for the sake of appearances. I don’t think that will happen. Apple is good at fixing mistakes — and this is one that could use a major-league fixing.

The two other spots in this campaign are Mayday and  Labor Day.

Tags: , , , ,

264 comments

  1. I too loved the Mac vs PC ads. Yes they were cutting at times, but they were always ACCURATE cuts. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out legitimate goods about a Mac, and bads about a pc.

    I think the real problem with this new crop of ads is that they even alienate the people that they’re aimed at, the ones who are not apple tech savvy. No one likes to feel like an idiot. My dad’s been using a pc all his life, but his iPad still stumps him from time to time. He doesn’t want to be made to feel like an idiot just because he’s unfamiliar with Apple’s brand of technology. Hell, I even know an elderly woman who works in top secret aerospace stuff, obviously quite intelligent, yet her new iPhone was a mystery to her. But she didn’t like it when it seemed so easy for me to navigate around and get things done on it when I tried to show its features to her. I have a feeling people like them are going to take one look at these ads and think, god, I’m never going to put myself in that situation, good thing this ad warned me that if I seek help for my Apple product I’m going to be ridiculed for being stupid.

  2. I too loved the Mac vs PC ads. Yes they were cutting at times, but they were always ACCURATE cuts. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out legitimate goods about a Mac, and bads about a pc.

    I think the real problem with this new crop of ads is that they even alienate the people that they’re aimed at, the ones who are not apple tech savvy. No one likes to feel like an idiot. My dad’s been using a pc all his life, but his iPad still stumps him from time to time. He doesn’t want to be made to feel like an idiot just because he’s unfamiliar with Apple’s brand of technology. Hell, I even know an elderly woman who works in top secret aerospace stuff, obviously quite intelligent, yet her new iPhone was a mystery to her. But she didn’t like it when it seemed so easy for me to navigate around and get things done on it when I tried to show its features to her

  3. These were done by TBWAMedia Arts Lab. It’s an agency that was spun-off from Chiat under Lee Clow’s guidance about 5-years ago to just service Apple. Lee’s checked out, and Duncan Milner’s taken his place as CCO. Dunan’s a good guy, but unfortunately he’s overruled by a tyrant called James Vincent, the agency’s president. James yells a lot and thinks he’s the next Steve Jobs. He’s responsible for everything that goes out the door, so no doubt he’s the one to blame for these spots.  No one else there has any power.

  4. Ludvik Herrera

    I like my Mac, my wife likes her Mac, my kids like their Mac because of its simplicity, design and mostly because of its intuitive system. We want a computer that feels like we know it from the inside out. That’s really the promise of Apple, Inc. At least under Steve Jobs, they take care of the OS and the hardware so we, the real geniuses, get to do whatever is that we do best. In this case the Genius is again the IT and we’re left with a computer or device just like any other, where you have to rely on an IT person (The Mac Genius). Mac vs PC, it was system vs. system. Think different, sets everyone as a genius, a rebel, et cetera. The iPod and iMac ads sell the beauty of product design. These new ads tell me that people are clueless and there is a need for a Mac Genius. Really? How much of a genius is that who you bring back a product, troubleshoots the same steps you took, goes in the back room and gives you a new product because he/she could not figured out the problem?
    Apple is about product design, intuitive design, creativity, style, and imagination, none of which were used in these new ads.

  5. Ludvik Herrera

    Phil has done his job in the past, under the supervision of Steve Jobs. So yes, Phil is at fault with the campaigns after Steve Jobs died since he is in charge as much as Tim Cook is at fault for being his supervisor. I do not want to make analogies, but Steve Ballmer was with Bill Gates since the beginning of Microsoft, that does not mean that Bill Gates was really who guided the success MS experienced many years/decades ago, whether we like it or not. Phil S. is on the very edge of turning himself into Ballmer. Tim Cook, needs to go to the core mantra S. Jobs was to keep guiding Apple on the same direction it was set many years ago. Creative, simple and stylish. The only person I feel has these elements with him is Jony Ive. Someone should give a call to John Lasseter for any media creation.

  6. Sorry, you’re wrong. Go ahead and ask Ken Segall himself. Anyone like myself who has worked with the top brass at Apple will tell you that Steve Jobs kept Phil Schiller’s terrible instincts in check. But now, there is nobody to keep his instincts in check. And Tim Cook is a big problem too: Tim is only worried about operations efficiency, nothing else. See the MacWorld August 2012 issue where an Apple engineer says that engineers & designers no longer run Apple; the operations teams do. This is really bad for the future of Apple. Welcome to post-Steve Apple. Hope everyone enjoys the downfall of technology yet again.

  7. The PC vs Mac ad campaign was absolutely brilliant in every sense of the world.

  8. and who was the director, what production company made these?  It’s a cover-up as no names have been released.

  9. No, not plausible. If Apple is allowed to run an ad, they’re certainly allowed to show a product. The advantage of being an official sponsor is usually that you have prime positioning in a show (like first ad in a series at an important moment). Normally, they don’t run two ads from the same industry in the same group of ads. 

  10. Silly me. Writing an article about Apple’s ads in a blog that focuses on technology marketing. What was I thinking?

  11. Lilapalestiine594

    Steve Jobs would not have approved these ads. But then again his last advice to Apple was : Don’t say what would Steve do. Do what you do. I guess thats whats Apple is doing.

  12. iZombie? Really? Wow.

    I think that’s a game on my Mac.

    Let me check my iPhone.

  13. whut?

  14. From the article that you linked:

    AppleInsider:

    Despite the dip in domestic sales numbers, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster notes that data for the month of June shows a bump of 1 percent and expects Mac growth of 5 percent, which is in line with Street estimates. He goes on to say that Apple’s reported Mac growth outpaced NPD’s five percent contraction estimates by 12 points in the March quarter to end up seven percent year over year.

    Munster believes that sales momentum seen as a result of Apple’s Mac refresh in early June will carry over into the “back to school” season. That refresh, lead by the new Retina Display MacBook Pro resulted in a per NPD Mac growth of negative 23 percent in May to up one percent in June.

    He says iPhone sales will be the real story for the June quarter, and he expects 28 to 29 million units sold compared to a more conservative consensus of 25 to 27 million.

    “Regardless of the June number, we believe focus will shift to the iPhone 5, which we expect in October,” Munster writes.

    Overall, Apple is estimated to bring in $37.1 billion in revenues for the June quarter, up from 2011′s $28.5 billion.

  15. Agree. Genius also appears a the renewed “I’m an Mac” character, I mean visually : young fresh apple face. Execution is B class. Absolutely. If long minutes and many words are needed to explain an ad to someone then it failed. This ad can not lead to “You should see the new apple ad, it is really really great”. B- Class versus what apple stands for.

Leave a comment