Dec 14

iPhone 6 ads: resoundingly “okay”

When Tim Cook introduced the new iPhones on September 19th, he also introduced a couple of Fallon/Timberlake iPhone commercials.

At the time, I was on the fence about them. Didn’t love ’em, didn’t hate ’em.

There have been some new ones since, including two just released. (One is above, the other is here.)

Even after watching the whole bunch over and over, I still find myself on the fence. And I think I know why.

This whole campaign is on the fence. It teeters on the edge between the good and the bad.

• It doesn’t plumb the depths like the Apple Genius campaign, but it’s a far cry from the glory of Mac vs. PC campaign.

• Certain bits are funny. Some parts make you wince.

• You have a favorite spot or two, but conveniently forget about the others.

• You say it’s good, but your inner critic says “I wish it were better.”

All things considered — talent, scripts, concept, production values — it’s a campaign that’s absolutely, perfectly … okay. Which, given Apple’s illustrious history of advertising, isn’t okay at all.

If you’re in the marketing biz, you’re well aware of the impact Apple has had over the years. Your clients likely hold up Apple advertising as an ideal, even if they’re in a completely different industry.

But even golden reputations need constant maintenance. In this sense, Apple is beginning to suffer New York Yankees Syndrome.

After winning for as long as people can remember, the current Yankees actually went two years without even making it to the playoffs. The fans find that unbelievable. They await the big moves that will restore their team to the throne.

Similarly, after a bit of floundering, Apple could use a convincing display of advertising awesomeness. Maybe that’s why an “okay” campaign at this point, for a product as great as iPhone 6, doesn’t feel like enough.

So what are the Fallon/Timberlake lacking?

Well, let’s start with humor. This is puzzling to me, because when you make commercials with funny celebrities, there’s normally a lot of improvising on top of the approved script. These spots don’t seem to be as funny as the guys who performed them.

It’s a little unfair to compare the comedy of this campaign to that of the Mac vs. PC campaign, because the latter was firing shots at the competition. Also, we got to see the actors themselves, with their facial expressions, body language and funny props.

But still, one would expect that an ad campaign for the world’s coolest phone would be buzzworthy in its own right. Maybe I just have dull friends, but in all these weeks, not a single person has even mentioned the iPhone 6 ads to me.

One factor may be that these are celebrity spots that don’t show the celebrities. There is definitely a coolness factor in having Fallon and Timberlake perform, but only if you recognize the voices. Otherwise — which seems to be the case for a lot of people — they just come off as a couple of goofy guys.

Do these ads do a good job of communicating that there are now two different sizes of iPhones, and that they do some amazing things? They sure do. So I understand why some people will say: “That’s what advertising is supposed to do. What’s your problem?”

My problem is that the world is cluttered with “okay” advertising. When you’re selling the world’s hottest product, okay advertising is probably just fine. But the great Apple ads of the past have done a ton more than just create awareness. They’ve elevated product ads into brand-building moments. They’ve created millions of “second-hand viewers” as the Apple crowd joyously shares links with friends, family and colleagues. That kind of buzz multiplies the effectiveness of any ad budget.

Middle-of-the-road ads may do the job — but they also represent a lost opportunity.

This isn’t an emergency situation. For the first time in a long time, the public perception of Apple is in sync with the reality. This is a company firing on all cylinders.

It’s just that some cylinders are firing a bit hotter than others.

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  • Did you see how overly enthusiastic Tim was after he showed the first ad at the iPhone event? “Did you recognize these voices?” he asked, and then repeated, “Do you know who they are??” I didn’t hear a single voice of recognition call out any names in the audience, just a bunch of nervous laughs.

    I agree with everything you said. I think Apple, and most likely Tim, are probably overly seduced by the fact that the ads are voiced by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, and hope that their cachet will add the buzz factor missing from what, I assume in the back of their minds they must’ve already known, are mediocre ads that fail to hit the high mark of the great ads they’ve ran before.

    I say they must’ve known the ads are mediocre because of Tim’s overly enthusiastic gushing over *the voiceover talent*. He really pulled out all the stops trying to sell us on that.

    I love the Mac vs PC ads because they were hilarious. But I’d take lofty, beautiful statement ads over ads that try to be funny with little success any day. The humor in these just feel on the level of Garfield or Family Circus.

    I hope that Apple comes out with another beautiful holiday ad for December—not a Fallon/Timberlake one—and then replace this campaign with something else shortly after.

  • Namelesscoward

    A while a go several Apple fan sites mentioned a job listing by Apple pertaining to marketing and product placement. Not that Apple isnt seen in media and or used by celebs, they are. But this job listing came after Samsungs agressive push of its products in the media by celebs. I doubt If this is they best way for Apple, Its the oldest trick in the books. But then again Apple is no stranger to burning bridges. Perhaps mediocracy isn’t the loweset common denominator anymore.

    Tim knew the ad isnt clear enough, thats why he askes if we recognized the voices of these actors acting.

    Tims acting lessons on wntusiasm havnt convinced me yet.

    Btw Phill looks more and more like he doesnt agree or something. While on stage he goes through the motions halway on autopilot.

    Perhaps Apple should hire you Ken – for real.

  • SuperMatt

    Until you mentioned it in this article, I had no clue that the voices in the commercial belonged to anybody famous. They sound like 2 versions of the “you’re getting a DELL” dude. The 2 celebrities surely got a big payout, but they did a terrible job of advertising. This explains so much – I hate the shtick of both those celebrities, and couldn’t figure out why I hated those latest Apple commercials until now.

  • Michael Ellis Day

    These ads suffer by comparison with the satiric Will Ferrell ads from 2002. I’m not a huge Will Ferrell fan to say the least, but the few who saw those spots remember them to this day. They were jarring, unexpected, the work of people who had nothing to lose and were willing to be reckless. These spots on the other hand are the embodiment of safety and caution.

  • RedMercury

    I didn’t watch the iPhone 6 introduction and had no idea who was voicing those ads.

  • ksegall

    An excellent point. I should have mentioned this in my article.

    To me, this is what’s been missing from Apple ads for some time now — the willingness to take a chance. As iPhone and iPad have become part of the mainstream, it seems that the advertising has become mainstream as well. Unfortunately, in going that route, Apple surrenders a part of its personality, and therefore part of its strength.

    To me, the Prime Directive in Apple advertising has always been simple: the ads should be as innovative as the products. Tough to do, but Apple always found a way in the past.

  • Peter

    I agree. When an ad comes out for an Apple device and I enjoy the ad, I share it with my kids who also like the entertainment value of watching them. No such desire to share with this bunch of ads; they’re a bit ‘meh’. The two actors doing the voice work would probably have been better working without the script.

  • Pingback: Apple’s former ad man is not impressed with the Timberlake-Fallon iPhone 6 ads | POPFIX - Celebrity, Tech, Sports News()

  • Samanjj

    I think you hit the nail on the head in an unintended way. The products are now matured and are not daring save the Mac pro, retina imac and possibly the soon to be released apple watch. Also to your point the public perception matches reality and that is a matured company with less risk taking behaviour for products and some small drops in software release quality. The ads I think reflect apple as they are mainstream and safe not what they want to be.

  • dr.one

    Who produced this ad. Your old firm or internal Apple team.
    That should tell us more that the ads.

    It looks all the talent at Apple is concentrating on AppleWatch
    and nothing else. It seems people there get bored by certain
    products and let it languish. Ads are reflecting this lax.
    Only one man cared it seems and made sure Apple cared.

  • Pingback: Apple’s Former Ad Evangelist Is Not impressed With The Timberlake-Fallon iPhone 6 Ads. ~ IDC GH()

  • ksegall

    I haven’t a clue who made these ads.

  • I agree, they are ok but not great, but it’s not the execution it’s the strategy, they are aiming low.
    They point at technical differentiation of the product against competitors, game power or voice handling, it’s like advertising a car for the cx or a cpu for the clock.
    They do it nicely but what they do is showing a tecnicality, it’s mainstream advertising of checklist capabilities.
    The use case campaign on the contrary pointed out the ability to express yourself using the devices, to make a statement about who you are, that is a great point and it deserved a great commercial.
    How can you do a great commercial about how to use voice messages?

  • David B

    Apple fan to the core BUT I felt a twinge of discomfort viewing the i6 ads before coming across Mr.Segall’s words here so wasn’t influenced by this post. Seems Apple is breaking the FIRST rule in Ken’s INSANELY SIMPLE book (fun read BTW) and that is: Why make things complex when you can make them simple? Steve Jobs might have hit these ads with his “simple stick” and the agency with his “turret” gun :)

    I really did wonder what point the ads were trying to make, as well as not recognizing the voices and frankly, even if the voices had been SPELLED OUT on the screen, I would have thought “so what” and was slightly embarrassed for Apple because the ads came off as looking like what the competition would make in a desperate attempt to catch UP to Apple! The ads also failed to underscore the advances made for the 6 like better camera and screen size choices etc etc. The good news is that Apple still has time to simplify things a little before the 7 comes out.

  • Ted Carr

    “For years the dairy industry tried to convince us that milk was good for us – it was a lie, but they tried anyway.” – Steve Jobs

    Why why why are they promoting MILK it in this ad? Would not be surprised if the dairy industry paid them…

    Yeesh. Cow milk is for baby cows, just as human milk is for BABY humans.

    Go fruit yourself, grab an apple.

  • Startur

    Thanks for reminding about those Will Ferrell ads. I had forgotten how ballsy they were. Just watch this one with Santa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esmHMnAw1Po It doesn’t even mention a single product, but portrays a rebel culture. By purchasing Apple products you are daring. Not so much with these ads.