Aug 15

iPhone’s annual cycle of advertising

By now, you may have noticed a pattern in Apple’s iPhone advertising.

When the new models launch, the ads blast out what’s new. (Like last fall’s ads for the bigger screens.) But by the time summer rolls around, the big news isn’t so big anymore.

That’s when we get the “filler” ads, which take us to the launch of new models in the fall.

Ad people have wrestled with this issue for eons. Creating launch ads is fun and exciting, while creating the ongoing ads is more of a challenge. It’s hard to be magical when the magic has faded.

In the summer of 2014, we got spots like “Strength,” which simply highlighted a certain aspect of iPhone. The year before that, we got a series of ads like “Photos Every Day.”

Now we have a new campaign to fill the space between summer and fall.

This year’s motif is logic. Apple has presented three ads that explain why iPhones are superior, all culminating in the line “If it isn’t an iPhone, it isn’t an iPhone.”

The problem is, a spot that’s high in logic is typically low in magic. Thus, the lukewarm response we’ve seen to the newest campaign.

A quick look at the content of each:

1. Amazing Apps. (Above.) The Voice of Logic says we should buy an iPhone because it has 1.5 million apps. Apple’s app superiority was actually the main message back in the very beginning, but faded years ago when Android closed the gap.

2. Loved. The whole story is presented in one questionably constructed wording: “This is an iPhone, and it comes with something different. 99% of the people who have an iPhone love their iPhone.” Hey, if other people love their iPhone, you’ll love it too.

3. Hardware & Software. Here, the Voice of Logic explains what many know to be one of iPhone’s greatest strengths — Apple controls all aspects of iPhone. True as it is, it’s also an old message.

Logic has always been a part of Apple’s sell. But it normally appears as copy points on the web pages, while mainstream ads aimed much higher. In fact, logic has long been the tool of Apple’s competitors, in their attempt to break iPhone’s spell.

If you accept the opinion that iPhone’s filler ads aren’t nearly as interesting as its launch ads, the question becomes: what can Apple do about it?

Well, to be honest, I’ve had my fill of people telling Apple what to do. So, remaining true to the title of this blog, I’ll make this less of a suggestion and more of an observation.

There are two approaches to advertising a product like iPhone.

You can create an endless series of mini-campaigns, each designed to do a specific job or sell a specific feature. Or you can create a single ongoing campaign that can do the same things, but also builds equity over time.

Like many, I often cite the Mac vs. PC campaign as the best campaign in Apple’s history. For more than four years, it felt new and entertaining. Every new ad generated buzz. From a sales point of view, it was also Apple’s most successful campaign, bumping Mac’s market share from 3% to about 10%.

This was an ongoing campaign for Apple’s oldest product — yet it attracted as much attention as a launch campaign. Both entertaining and informative, it became a favorite weapon for every Apple evangelist.

Why? It gave the Mac a personality. With wit and charm, it delivered hard-hitting competitive points. It created an interesting and memorable world.

Another example, further in the past, is the “What’s On Your PowerBook” campaign. It ran over a long period of time and, with Apple’s then-typical wit, created a distinct personality for PowerBook.

I do find myself wondering if iPhone might not be better served with an engaging, long-running campaign. One that creates equity for the brand, and makes iPhone even more resistant to competition.

When the product has become a platform, maybe the advertising should be a platform too.


  • NamelessCoward

    “When the product has become a platform, maybe the advertising should be a platform too.” – Ken Segall

    Could you elaborate on this Ken?

  • ksegall

    I just mean that a rich, ongoing campaign can become a platform from which you can do all kinds of different things — commercials, digital ads, retail store posters, demo screens, Apple event videos, etc. A single ad is just a single ad.

  • NamelessCoward

    Thank you Ken. That would be nice. Just do it, Apple will notice.

  • The Mac vs. PC and the iPod silhouettes are the two most iconic ad campaigns of the 2000’s, in my opinion. I’d *love* to see Apple do for the iPhone what those two campaigns did for the Mac, iPod and the advertising landscape in general.

  • In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Apple really should’ve adopted the basic format of the colorful iPod campaign for the iPhone 5C. Market the features of their flagship phones in creative ways, but market the C-models as fun, colorful, lust-worthy gadgets you “want” to have because they’re more hip than the competitors.

  • wilyoldfox

    Trouble is, Ken, you won’t get a rich, ongoing campaign all the while you rely on “in house” creatives. Apple make fantastic products and services – they don’t make decent advertising. If only Schiller would go back to an agency!

  • ksegall

    I really don’t know whether this stuff comes from the agency or the in-house group. But I do agree with you on the principle that an outside agency can provide better creative leadership and offer a more objective opinion.

  • wilyoldfox

    I am sure you will have a pretty good idea, Ken, but I respect your silence! I suspect that the current rash of ads has been researched to the point where all the life has been sucked out in order to be “right”. No-one listens to the man who is always right, they listen to the man who is interesting! (I guess I have been in this game for too long, now and scepticism – NOT cynicism – has taken over!)

  • “the “What’s On Your PowerBook” campaign”

    I remember that well. There was subtle magic inherent in that campaign.

    A similar – Hell, it could be nearly identical – campaign designed around the iPad might be just as effective today.

  • this is an informative article..thank you for nice sharing!
    Wavepad Sound Editor keygen

  • Gary Deezy

    “From a sales point of view, [the Mac vs. PC campaign] was also Apple’s most successful campaign, bumping Mac’s market share from 3% to about 10%.”

    I have a great deal of respect for you Ken, but I do not believe that a wonderful ad campaign was solely responsible for a 7% share jump in Apple’s sales. Just my opinion.

  • I really need to do something about my response time. Your comment is now four months old. Shame on me.

    I just wanted to say that of course I agree with you that the Mac vs. PC campaign was not solely responsible for the big gains in Mac market share. I see now that my wording made it sound that way. I’ve always said that the job of advertising is to throw fuel on the flame. Great ads can’t turn a dud product into a hit, but great ads certainly can make a great product even more appealing. I believe that’s what happened here.

    The Mac vs. PC campaign was so well received, created so much buzz, and opened so many people’s eyes to the benefits of using a Mac over a PC — it threw fuel on the flame in a very big way.

    Considering that there was nothing terribly revolutionary about the Macs during this time, and no other reason for people to be talking about Macs, I think it’s safe to say that this campaign was a very big factor in Mac’s rise during this time.