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 →

Jan 14

The Mac birthday video should inspire everyone: including Apple

Apple’s new-product videos have become as famous as its devices. But not necessarily in a good way.

Let’s just say they’re a bit predictable.

You know the routine: Jony Ive and assorted Apple leaders appear on a white background, gushing over the product to someone off-camera, with occasional cutaways to beauty shots and explanatory graphics.

The format has been repeated so often, it’s become the standard for parody videos by pros and amateurs alike. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the flattery part ran its course after the first five years.

So it was with great joy that I watched Apple’s latest product video — which is actually an old-product video.

The Mac 30th Birthday piece is all about a computer, but the story isn’t told by Apple people. We hear it from those who have used a Mac to have impact in this world — each speaking from a different perspective.

There isn’t a white background in sight. The speakers appear in their natural habitats, which are colorful and interesting. The music is really good. There’s energy in the edit. It feels honest and authentic. Continue reading →

Nov 13

Apple & the art of blowing things up

Many cool things appeared at Apple’s most recent product unveiling: new iPads, Mac Pro, OS X Mavericks and more.

But then a number of things disappeared as well — like a long list of features in the iWork apps.

Depending on one’s willingness to drink the juice, reactions ranged from mild annoyance to utter disbelief. It was either an unavoidable step toward a better future or an unforgivable slap in the face.

But — if you squint your eyes a bit, you’ll actually see this development as one more reason to feel good about Apple.

Good grief Ken. Could you possibly be more of an apologist fanboy?

I knew you’d say that. Especially since I myself couldn’t resist grousing about the missing features in Pages just a couple of weeks ago. Continue reading →

Oct 12

Reflecting on the iPad mini event

I’m still calling this the iPad mini event. But that’s only because it sounds much simpler than the MacBook Pro/iMac/iPad mini event. That was quite a boatload of technology.

Some observations:

Tim Cook. I thought he was much improved yesterday — compared to his performance at the iPhone 5 event, where he seemed overly coached and eager to hurl those adjectives.

The even-newer iPad. Surprise. The 4th generation comes only seven months after the 3rd generation. Never seen that before. Of course an update was necessary, if only to add the Lightning connector. Apple couldn’t very well be selling millions of iPads for the holidays sporting a connector that has no future.

The next new iPad? Taking iPad off its regular spring update schedule is a smart marketing move. By moving to a fall update schedule, Apple will enter every holiday season with a brand-new iPad. That’ll throw a bit more fuel on the flame. Continue reading →

Aug 12

Where do bad ads come from?

In the wake of Apple’s now-retracted Genius commercials, I received quite a few emails asking:

“How could that even happen?”

Good question. However, a much bigger question is, why does any company end up with a bad ad? Turn on the TV any given night and you’re sure to see an impressive display of world-class clunkers.

Where does all the badness come from?

Though mediocre creative people do exist, more often the problem is mediocre clients. The marketing directors at many companies (1) don’t have terrific advertising taste, (2) don’t appreciate the power of creativity, or (3) are unwilling to stand up to their superiors. Continue reading →

Jul 12

New Mac ads: landing with a serious thud

[Update 9.23.12: Apple has pulled all of the Genius ads from its website and YouTube channel. Personal postings have been removed as well. Sorry, looks like all evidence has been destroyed.}

Repeat after me: “The sky is not falling. The sky is not falling.”

I know it’s hard to say after viewing the new batch of Mac ads that debuted on the Olympics. I’m still in a bit of shock myself.

Sure, Apple has had a low point or two in its advertising past — but its low points are usually higher than most advertisers’ high points.

This is different. These ads are causing a widespread gagging response, and deservedly so. I honestly can’t remember a single Apple campaign that’s been received so poorly. Continue reading →

Apr 12

Intel’s “new era” echoes Apple’s old idea

Thanks to Intel, “a new era of computing” has arrived.

No more thick, heavy laptops. No more clunky design. This is the dawn of the “ultrabook”: super-thin, super-light and beautifully sculpted.

It’s a bold claim and a fantastic idea, except that it ignores one obvious fact:

The Intel era of ultrabooks looks exactly like the Apple era of MacBook Air, which began four years ago.

It’s particularly interesting because MacBook Air has actually been running on an Intel processor all this time. And PC companies have in fact dabbled in the super-thin space before, though they haven’t had much luck. Continue reading →

Jan 12

The man who gave Apple its voice

Attention: Apple fans. While you weren’t looking, one of your biggest heroes just retired. Steve Hayden left his position as Vice Chairman of Ogilvy in NY.

If you have to ask “Steve who?” you’re missing an important part of Apple history.

Steve Hayden is the man who created the modern voice of Apple. He started out creating many classic Apple II ads, before any of us had a clue why we’d want or need a computer. Then he worked on the launch of Macintosh.

With just one ad, Steve qualified himself for the advertising Hall of Fame. He’s the guy who wrote 1984.

1984, of course, is widely regarded as the greatest commercial ever made. Not just for Apple, but for anyone. It’s the spot that turned the Super Bowl into an advertising showcase. It also had people lining up at stores the following day to see Macintosh for themselves (since they didn’t see it in the commercial itself).

But the launch of Macintosh was much bigger than 1984. There were other great ads, like Manuals, that showed the stark philosophical difference between Macs and PCs. And of course Steve is the guy behind “The computer for the rest of us,” one of the most perfect theme lines ever written.

To write like Steve, one must be incredibly smart and incredibly funny. He was (and is) the master of “intelligent wit.” You couldn’t stop yourself from reading every word he wrote, whether it was a one-paragraph ad or a 20-page magazine insert.

When I started writing Apple ads, I had it easy. The tone and personality had already been established — and Steve was the one who did the establishing. From practically nothing, he created a personality for the young Apple.

Every writer who has created an Apple ad since is following in Steve’s footsteps. That intelligent wit is alive and well today in Apple’s TV ads, print ads, billboards, in-store posters, even its manuals.

Shockingly, Steve discovered that there was life after Apple. He moved back to the east coast to take on the marketing responsibilities for IBM at Ogilvy NY, and did remarkable things for that brand for over 15 years.

Those are the big things for which Steve will always be admired. He also did one vastly smaller thing that I will forever appreciate. He hired me. Despite the fact that I had done little to prove myself worthy, Steve thought it made sense to sign me up. Either that, or he desperately needed a body and figured I couldn’t screw things up too badly.

To this day, when people ask me who my favorite advertising writer is, my instant answer is “Steve Hayden.” Honestly, I never had the urge to write like David Ogilvy or the standard industry legends. I just wanted to write like Steve.

There’s one more thing that makes Steve’s career worth celebrating. On top of all his business accomplishments, he’s a genuine human being too. He always supported those who worked for him and never took credit for their work. There are way too few Steve Haydens in this world.

By no means have you heard the last of Steve. Personally, I’m hoping that he writes a few books. He could tell some amazing stories about the birth of Macintosh. (He’s already written some mesmerizing articles about those days, including this one about the creation of the 1984 commercial.)

The only downside is that if Steve writes a book, you’ll have to finish it in one sitting. Hard to imagine you’ll be able to put it down.

Jan 12

Apple’s predictable unpredictability

First of all, welcome to 2012. Okay, so I’m a little behind the rest of the world, but I finally made it.

The new year actually makes a perfect topic for Week 1. As you probably noticed, this week we got a mini-flood of articles about what we can expect from Apple in 2012: iPad 3, iPhone 5, Apple TV, slim MacBook Pro. To which most of us would say:


Of course that’s what’s coming. It’s hardly news. I’ll tell ya, secrecy just isn’t what it used to be.

Though Apple continues to be thought of as one of the most secretive companies on earth, the truth is, they’ve lost the ability to surprise us like they did in the good old days.

The products are still amazing. The announcement events are fun. We still get surprised by the details as they are unveiled. It’s just that we know in advance what the products will be.

It wasn’t always this way. When Steve returned to Apple in 1997, secrets were secrets. His onstage announcements were real surprises (for the most part). The look of iMac was a shock. You had no idea that Apple was going to enter the consumer electronics market with iPod. You weren’t sure which Apple technology would be the focus of each event.

Breaches of secrecy were a scandal. Several days before the introduction of the first multicolored iMacs, the official family photo of all five models escaped from a printing facility in Germany, where a version of the multipage insert was being printed. It took the steam out of Steve’s big announcement — which was a crime punishable by death. (Or something close to it.)

As Apple has grown, and more people are exposed to the deep, dark secrets at various stages of product development, that kind of secrecy doesn’t exist anymore.

People were talking about iPhone — and calling it by name — months before it appeared. The name iPad was a surprise, but the device wasn’t — it was also widely expected months before, and its features accurately predicted.

This isn’t a terrible thing. It’s just a different thing. The new “iTV” (or whatever it will be called) will get the same attention this year. There will be buzz for months ahead, because Apple shaking up a new category is a great story. Journalists will hang on every word at the announcement event, even if many of the details become known before.

The only difference between now and then is that we know it’s coming. At least in the broad strokes.

I do find myself wondering about one thing this year. What’s next for Mac Pro? While it has grown in power, no product in Apple history has gone this long without a major overhaul. Mac Pro can now be officially classified as a “workhorse.” We’ve come to expect internal improvements only, but no major conceptual rethinking.

Will Apple demonstrate a new commitment to the pro market? Or will Mac Pro get upgraded the way Final Cut Pro did? Does Apple still love the high-end pros, or is it really just focusing on different levels of consumer now?

While it may be easier to predict Apple’s hardware these days, predicting its intentions is a different matter.

Happy 2012.

Jul 11

Cuddling up with Lion

Pounding Apple for its perceived sins has become quite a sport. Antennagate, Final Cut Pro X, pick your favorite lapse.

But even with so many critics looking for another chance to pounce, Mac OS X Lion is getting a very warm reception — which is a pretty good indicator of what a solid product it is.

To prove just how misplaced my priorities can be, I completely ignored the work on my desk yesterday so I could download Lion and give it a good workout. I’ll share some reactions, trying not to duplicate the things you’re reading elsewhere:

The name. Since Apple unveiled Lion, some had pointed out that “Mac” was quietly being dropped from the name. It was simply going to be OS X Lion. Well … the big headline on the Mac App Store does in fact say OS X Lion. Likewise for all the Lion pages at Ordinarily, I’d say that settles it — except for the fact that the installer greets you with a big, honkin’ Mac OS X Lion. And, post-installation, About This Mac does report that I am running Mac OS X. We must await clarification on this critical issue.

The come-on. The words below OS X Lion on the Mac App Store are: The world’s most advanced desktop operating system advances even further. Hmm. Am I having a deja vu?

The video. Following tradition, Apple delivers their tried-and-true product video on the Lion web page. Human highlights: Phil Schiller is clearly resisting those carbs. He’s looking good. Craig Federighi, who replaced former Apple software chief Bertrand Serlet, gets a starring role. In this formal scripted format, he’s not nearly as engaging as he is in an onstage demo. Loosen up, guys.

My life is upside down. For the most part, Lion is easy to pick up. It feels natural and fluid — except for the scrolling thing. Logically, Apple is correct — you should push upward to move the page up, and pull down to move the page down. It’s just that we’ve been working the other way for 20 years and that’s a tough habit to break. Not an issue though, because you can change the preference if you wish.

The incredible shrinking scroll bars. I get that we’re supposed to think less about scroll bars and more about gestures. Unfortunately, there are times when it’s a lot quicker to use a scroll bar, like when you want to quickly get to the bottom of a 200-page document and your app doesn’t support the Home and End keys. Lion’s scroll bars are microscopic, so you’ll have to aim carefully. Even worse, they don’t even become visible when you hover over them — you need to start scrolling via gesture before they show up. If I wanted to scroll via gesture, I wouldn’t be looking for a scroll bar.

The star field, MIA. With the introduction of Leopard, Apple fell in love with the now-overly-familiar star field image. It was the background for the log-in screen (unchangeable), the default desktop image, the Time Machine background, and a big part of the marketing imagery. Personally, I got sick of it after a few weeks. Plus, I never quite got the relationship between a leopard and a star field. But no matter, it’s finally gone now. Kind of. You’ll still see it on the Lion page at, and it lives on with Time Machine. But at least the log-in screen background has been upgraded. Now it’s a beautiful gray textured fabric, the same as the one that appears as background in Final Cut Pro X. Now if we can only talk someone into updating Time Machine…

The cuteness of iCal & Address Book. You can use many words to describe the design sense of OS X: Classy … elegant … timeless. Not “cutesy.” And certainly not “retro.” Personally, I’m puzzled by the new (or is that old) look of iCal and Address Book. They stick out like sore thumbs in an otherwise sleek and modern interface. If this is the way computing should be, why doesn’t the dictionary look like a frayed old Merriam-Webster? Why doesn’t iPhoto look like the old family scrapbook? My personal preference, likely shared by many, is a minimalist layout that presents the information clearly without visual distractions. May the gods deliver new skins soon.

Launcher. In the past, I’ve used an app-launching utility that works great for me, so I didn’t give a hoot about Launcher. Now that I’ve played with it, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll go with the flow on this one.

Mail. Better. Much better. Thanks. The addition of the configurable “folder bar” up top is a major boon.

The bigger the better — sometimes. I’m a big fan of full-screen apps, so I do love this feature, though it will be a while before non-Apple apps incorporate it. Only caveat: those with a bigger screen will want to use full-screen judiciously. Email isn’t so hot when every line of text is 15 inches wide. (Needless to say, full-screen is a huge winner on an 11-inch Air.)

Magic TrackPad, please. I’ve been fairly gesture-resistant so far, but Lion is putting me over the edge. I like the idea of gestures and the Magic Mouse offers too tiny a surface to gesture comfortably. I smell a visit to the Apple Store later today. Credit card on standby.

Overall conclusion. Apple made it clear that Mac OS X was going to be inheriting a lot of iOS goodness. In light of the Final Cut Pro X episode, that made me a little nervous. But with Lion, Apple is doing what it does best — pushing us in directions that may take some getting used to, but do represent a step forward. It can use a little tweaking and philosophical focusing, but it works beautifully. For 30 bucks, it’s a no-brainer.