Feb 16

Super Bowl confidential: the secret story behind Apple’s “Lemmings”

This is the day I normally offer up some reviews on the Super Bowl commercials.

This year, I suffered a bit of writer’s block. I couldn’t find a fresh way to say things like “This one was funny,” “This one was an embarrassment” and “Damn you, advertisers, for taking away the surprise by releasing ads a week before the game.”

So I’m going to sit this one out. I’ll listen to your opinions instead.

However, I will not sit idly by! In honor of the Super Bowl I’m setting the time machine back to 1985, when Apple ran its notoriously awful Lemmings commercial on that year’s Super Bowl.

Just twelve months earlier, Apple had stunned the technology and advertising worlds with its famous 1984 commercial, and Lemmings was meant to carry on the blockbuster tradition.

Instead, it was a dud of extraordinary proportions.

But what exactly is the origin of Lemmings? It’s a story that’s never been told publicly, and it’s definitely not what you think. Join me now on this journey down memory lane…
Continue reading →

Dec 15

The great Apple advertising experiment

experiment-timRecently, Apple hired Tor Myhren as VP of Marketing Communications.

He comes from Grey, where he was the global chief creative officer and president of the NY office.

To borrow some new Star Wars terminology, he’s a big deal in advertising.

On the surface, Tor’s hiring is what it is. But if you look a bit deeper, there are all sorts of juicy implications.

To better appreciate, one must first understand how Apple’s marketing has worked in the past, Steve Jobs-style.

Steve kept things simple. Basically, he trusted the right people to do the right job. He had the ad agency (called TBWA\Chiat\Day in 1997, becoming Media Arts Lab later) and his in-house creative group. The two had separate and distinct responsibilities.

The agency developed the big ad campaigns and the in-house group owned, product packaging and themes/signage for the retail Apple Stores. Continue reading →

Oct 15

Dueling monikers: 3D Touch & Force Touch

touch2We first met Force Touch when Tim Cook unveiled Apple Watch in September of last year.

Six months later, Force Touch debuted in the new Macbook, and soon after it appeared in an updated Macbook Pro.

So it only seemed logical to believe that Force Touch would appear in the new iPhones as well.

Except that it didn’t. Instead, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus arrived sporting 3D Touch.

Some were confused. Others were elated.

And just to add to the effect, last week Apple introduced the new Magic Trackpad — featuring Force Touch.

You’d be forgiven if your first reaction was, “Good grief, Apple, make up your mind!” Having two kinds of Touches seemed uncharacteristically wishy-washy, especially with all of this happening in the span of a year. Continue reading →

Oct 15

New Apple Watch ads: a midcourse correction

Ah, much better. Thank you Apple.

At long last, nearly six months after Apple Watch started shipping, Apple has launched a Watch campaign that might turn some heads. Or better yet, open some eyes.

The new ads are actually the polar opposite of the previous ones.

If you’re the kind, forgiving type, you might see the change as TechCrunch does:

These ads signal somewhat of a value shift in Apple’s Watch advertising as the product matures and the company looks to showcase its utility a bit more seriously.

Interesting. Where I come from, the best time to showcase a product’s utility is when it’s launched.

The simple truth is, the first Watch campaign was soft and fuzzy — long on emotion and short on lust. Way too many people reacted to those spots by saying “I still don’t get why I’d want one.”

The new campaign is not only 100x more clear—it actually gives the Watch a personality. Continue reading →

Sep 15

Addendum to the iPhone “S” argument

dice-6Earlier this week, I expressed a distinct lack of love for the S-naming that Apple has applied to iPhone every other year.

My point was that by choosing this path, Apple has actually trained the world to believe S years are “off-years” that feature only minor innovations. This, when some of iPhone’s biggest advances have actually arrived in the S models.

As Exhibit A in my argument, I now submit yesterday’s BuzzFeed article entitled 20 Minutes With Tim Cook. More accurately, I submit a single paragraph neatly tucked mid-article. Here, John Paczkowski illustrates two reasons why Apple’s S naming is a bad idea (though he did so unintentionally): Continue reading →

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. Continue reading →

Jul 15

Apple Watch ads: beautiful, classy & forgettable

Well, now we know why Apple went silent with the Watch ads after its initial flurry. They’ve been busy beavers over there.

Now we have four new big-budget ads featuring a cast of dozens acting out scenarios shot all over the world.

The only problem — they’re the wrong ads at the wrong time.

At a moment when many seem to be on the fence about the Watch, these spots are just sleepy. They’re lacking in fun and excitement, and not the kind of ad you rave to your friends about.

Even worse, they actually give credibility to the doubters. Among the unusually high number of negative comments on the Apple-centric sites are many along the lines of “They made me realize how little I need an Apple Watch.” Continue reading →

Mar 15

Waking from an Apple Watch hangover

We don’t like to make hot-headed remarks about Apple new-product events around these parts. Better to let things sink in for a while.

Okay, time’s up.

A few random comments about yesterday’s Apple Watch and MacBook event.

The broadcast
Glitch-free and a pleasure to watch. With the accompanying tweet-cast, Apple has become quite spiffy with these things. My only issue with it was…

The tweets
I couldn’t help but wince while reading some of the pre-event tweets. Steve Jobs hated any writing that sounded like marketing-speak, but such inhibitions seemed to have melted way here. It was a mix of trying to be cool (Getting psyched backstage listening to I Lived by @OneRepublic), trying to be clever (Please make sure your seat is in an upright position. It’s almost time for takeoff.) and sounding like an ad (People grab their seats before the keynote grabs their attention). Continue reading →

Feb 15

Adobe vs. Apple: the Oscars ad shootout

As fate would have it, both Apple and Adobe gave us a new ad on Oscars night.

Each company tapped into the Hollywood theme to craft its message, but the differences were quite extreme.

One takes issue with the idea of dreaming — the other proudly tells us to “dream on.”

One requires a wall-to-wall voiceover — the other uses only visual and sound.

One uses music as a quiet background — the other relies on music to drive the message.

One is about empowering ordinary people — the other is about empowering Hollywood.

So which was the better spot? And, in strictly marketing terms, which did more good for the company it represents?

Apple, as it often does these days, takes the softer route. It offers a beautifully produced, lovingly crafted story of high school kids using iPad to bring out their creative spirit. Continue reading →

Dec 14

Apple holiday ad 2014: two ways to see it

Another year, another Apple holiday commercial. So, what do we think?

Nosing around the internet (and pestering friends and associates), my non-scientific small-sample analysis of The Song yields these results:

• Most people like it.
• Some people love it.
• Some people think it goes over the top into Hallmark territory.

And then the dose of reality — even among the people who like this ad the most, quite a few qualify their answer by saying “but it’s not as good as last year’s spot.”


Well, the truth is, when its ads are critiqued, Apple has it rougher than other companies. It is not only graded vs. its competitors — it’s graded vs. its own past. That’s what you get when your advertising is as legendary as your products.

And so, if we are to review this ad, it’s only fitting that we review it two different ways. Continue reading →