Many Apple-bashers find it easy to explain the company’s historic success: “it’s just marketing.”
To them, Apple products are overpriced and uninventive, but damn, those guys sure know how to sell.
Fortunately, from time to time Apple proves this theory to be as brain-dead as it sounds. It launches a product with a major ad campaign — and it’s not a hit.
Case in point: iPhone 5c.
Marketing has always played a big role in Apple’s successes, but — for any company — it all starts with a great product. Advertising can add momentum and generate buzz, but it can’t turn a bad product into a sensation.
So what’s happened with iPhone 5c? Now that we’ve lived with it long enough, we can probably draw a few conclusions.
First, Steve Jobs was right. Apple is a company that doesn’t do “cheap.” It makes products for people who care about design, simplicity, quality and a great experience — and are willing to pay more for these things.
For Apple to compromise in any of these areas would be a violation of the Prime Directive.
Was plastic a compromise on quality? Not necessarily. After all, iPhones were made of plastic before. However, as the device evolved to become more jewel-like, the plastic was left behind. So clearly a new phone made of plastic would create a marketing challenge.
This is where the plot thickens.
Contrary to what most people think, an ad isn’t just good or bad. An ad is the execution of a strategy — and that strategy can be strong or weak.
One of my former agencies (the agency for NeXT) used to cite this fact in its new business pitches. The agency claimed that 90% of the failed ads in this world failed before the creative team even got the assignment — because the strategy wasn’t good enough.
Clearly plastic was a big part of the iPhone 5c strategy. The launch ad was entitled Plastic Perfected. The launch video featured Jony Ive explaining that iPhone 5c was “unapologetically plastic.”
There was a strategic plan to head off the potential negative by boldly proclaiming it as a positive.
There was some risk there, given that Samsung’s plastic Galaxy phone was often criticized for not being as substantial as iPhone.
Unfortunately for Apple, creativity can be a double-edged sword. The “unapologetically plastic” line in the product video was so interesting and memorable, it got played back over and over in articles about the lackluster demand for iPhone 5c. Not exactly what Apple intended.
Apple hasn’t broken out sales figures for the 5c. In the most recent earnings call, Tim Cook only noted an unanticipated demand for the 5s without mentioning the 5c at all — which is telling in itself.
If the iPhone 5c is struggling, is it because it’s plastic? Or because Apple made plastic a major selling point? Or because it wasn’t significantly more affordable than an iPhone 5s?
I unapologetically leave that conclusion to you.
Tags: iphone 5C