Feb 15

A big week on the Apple Watch watch

Sometimes I am astounded by the analytical prowess of technology journalists.

The Apple Watch is known to be shipping in April. Apple just placed a 12-page ad for the watch in Vogue. And yesterday the invitation went out for a March event titled “Spring Forward” — which is the least cryptic invitation in the history of Apple events.

I guess that was enough to make Fortune go out on a limb.

Headline: Apple just scheduled a “Spring Forward” March 9 event

Subhead: Is this the Apple Watch we’ve all been waiting for?

First paragraph: Apple sent out a media invitation Thursday inviting journalists to [sic] March 9 event, leading to much speculation that it could be when the tech company reveals its much anticipated Apple Watch.

Ah, okay. Thanks, Fortune. I get it now.

But enough of that. We like to talk about marketing here, so let’s talk about that 12-pager in Vogue.

Those with a few years of Apple-watching under their belt know that Apple is no stranger to multi-page magazine buys. In days of old, every major Apple product was launched with a 12- to 16-page insert in the newsweeklies and assorted other pubs.

This was for good reason. Back then, the internet wasn’t nearly what it is today. Big print pieces were the means of delivering the whole story to the world.

Once the internet achieved ubiquity, Apple’s use of these long-winded print ads mostly evaporated. These days, we normally just see a page or two, the purpose of which is to create awareness and direct people to the website for more info.

But there’s a big difference between the 12-page ad in Vogue and the ancient inserts. These 12 pages actually contain as little information as your typical one-page Apple ad. They’re pure fashion.

This gets us into the area of “Why so many models of Apple Watch?” — which is a favorite complaint of those who profess to know Apple’s business better than Apple. Surely, Steve Jobs would never have made the choice so complicated.

Well, unless you’re an editor at Fortune, the concept that is driving Apple Watch should be perfectly clear by now.

Unlike Samsung, Apple didn’t just set out to miniaturize the phone. It studied the watch category, and embraced the fact that watches are just as much a fashion statement as they are a timepiece. So, for its first wearable product, Apple would make something people might actually want to wear.

Understanding its own weakness in the area of fashion, Apple recruited some key players to join the mission. We saw the result of this effort when Tim Cook unveiled the many models of Apple Watch a few months ago.

The sheer number of Watch choices came as a shock to some people’s Apple senses. But in a matter of months it will seem like one of the most obvious decisions Apple has ever made. It will also be one of the biggest reasons why Apple will once again succeed in shaking up a category sorely in need of a vision.

The thing about obvious is that it is never obvious until you see it. One can only imagine the shock on the faces of the Samsung executives when they watched the Apple Watch unveiling. “Blindsided” is the word that comes to mind. They couldn’t imagine doing it themselves, so they couldn’t imagine Apple doing it either.

Expect a new fashion line of Gear watches in the near future.

But I digress. It’s the fashion approach that made the Vogue ad both surprising and logical. It’s the stake in the ground that says Apple is going somewhere it’s never gone before.

I’ve been critical of some of Apple’s magazine and outdoor ads for iPhone and iPad in recent years because they felt so formulaic. Typically, we’d see a beauty shot of the device along with the product name. Period.

At a time when Apple was being attacked as having lost its ability to innovate, I thought this approach only reinforced that inaccurate perception. Seemingly forgotten were the days when Apple reinforced its clever and feisty personality with a few choice words in its ads.

In the Vogue ad, Apple continues with that approach. But guess what — with the Apple Watch, it works fabulously. That’s because, at this moment in time, the visual impact of the Watch is all the announcement that’s necessary. If you’re an Apple customer, it’s hard not to want one. Coming so soon after iPhone 6, Apple is creating a Festival of Lust.

At this point, it’s just about awareness. And never forget that every Apple product launch comes with tens of millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity from the world’s journalists and bloggers. With the Watch, Apple need say nothing more than “it’s here.”

Steve Jobs often talked about Apple living at the intersection of art and technology. That’s certainly where you’ll find the Apple Watch.

And if all goes well, one day you may even be able to drive there in your Apple Car.

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