observatory


26
May 16

Heroes of simplicity

My new book, Think Simple, will be published on June 7th. While my previous book focused on the power of simplicity as practiced by Steve Jobs and Apple, the new one looks outward. I spent time with more than 40 business leaders around the world to learn how they succeed through simplicity. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll feature a few of their stories. Starting with this one…

BENNINGTON, VT - JULY 3: Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, partners of a homemade ice cream stand, Ben & Jerry's, in Bennington, Vt. (Photo by Ted Dully/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Like many, I’ve been conscious of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for most of my life.

Based simply on what I read, heard and tasted, my image of Ben & Jerry’s was (1) really good ice cream with outrageous mix-in flavors, and (2) a company that was pretty “out there.” It seemed that Ben and Jerry were basically hippies with their own take on how a company should be run.

Remember, these were the guys who once found a new CEO by running a “Yo! I’m your new CEO!” essay contest.

Ben and Jerry made it a point to have fun, but they were also outspoken in their belief that companies should do good in the world. They now have a history of being involved in the community and taking stands on social issues—oftentimes controversial ones.

Almost 40 years after its founding, the Ben & Jerry’s brand is still crystal-clear, more than ten years after the company was purchased by the the giant Unilever. Continue reading →


11
May 16

The power of simplicity: Act II

Insanely Simple was an easy book for me to write.

Having worked as an ad guy in Steve Jobs’s world for many years, all I had to do was write about the things I saw going on around me.

Simplicity is a most powerful force. It was a key component of Steve’s thinking—and Apple’s every success.

That said, a lot of people who read the book or heard me speak about it, had a similar reaction. It went something like this: “Okay, so simplicity is good. Now what? How exactly do I get my company from here to there?”

Good question. And finding a good answer took a bit of work—about two years’ worth.

Coming June 7th — Think Simple: How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity

think-simple_cover

To write Think Simple, I sought out CEOs and business leaders around the world who have built success by leveraging the power of simplicity. I interviewed more than forty—from businesses large and small, established and emerging, famous and under-the-radar. Though all had a unique point of view, they also shared some common ideas about the essential elements of a simpler business.

In Think Simple, Ron Johnson describes how a simple mission informed every major decision in developing the worldwide network of Apple Stores. Continue reading →


1
Apr 16

Of Steve Jobs and Andy Grove

grove-jobsLast week we lost another pioneer of technology with the passing of Andy Grove.

I can’t say I knew Andy well. I can only speak of him anecdotally, as I was part of his ad agency creative team for four years-plus in the early 2000s.

At that time, Andy was more of a spiritual adviser than a day-to-day leader. He was chairman, and Craig Barrett was CEO. Together, the two would sit in judgment at our creative presentations.

I was a bit star-struck when I first met Andy. Though I was always a Mac person (yes, even when I was making Intel ads), it was hard to look at Andy without marveling at the industry he helped spawn.

I had come to this job directly from my time at Apple’s agency in the Think different days, and I was in shock over how differently the two companies worked. Continue reading →


8
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 →


31
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 apple.com, product packaging and themes/signage for the retail Apple Stores. Continue reading →


2
Dec 15

Distorting Apple news, Wall Street-style

watch-loveFollowing the first shopping weekend of the holiday season, the news for Apple was refreshingly positive.

One could even say it was surprisingly positive, given the negativity preceding about downward trending iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch sales.

The new news was that Apple was off to a record-breaking start. Not only was Apple Watch a hot item, but even the lowly iPad was showing new life.

But wait! Surely there is some gloom hiding in there somewhere.

Yesterday, I awoke to see a Fortune article by Philip Elmer-Dewitt with the click-bait-ish headline Top 12 Reasons People Gave Up On The Apple Watch. Ominous! Except that once you understand the nature of the study, it’s not ominous at all.

Elmer-Dewitt is talking about a new survey from Internet research firm Wristly. Having previously reported 97% Apple Watch satisfaction ratings, their new survey is “the first formal survey of dissatisfied customers.” Continue reading →


6
Nov 15

Bidding adieu to Steve Jobs, the movie

stevejobs2
Uh oh. Two weeks into its general release, Universal’s Steve Jobs movie has faded fast.

In what might be the ultimate insult, it has only barely outperformed the Ashton Kutcher Jobs movie.

Quite an unexpected end for a movie that had everything going for it: writing, acting, directing, marketing budget and lots of great reviews in the mainstream media.

Where did things go wrong?

Well, as much as we admire Steve Jobs, his vision and his accomplishments, there is such a thing as a Steve Jobs overdose. Continue reading →


30
Oct 15

Raining on Apple’s parade

apple_headlines
I guess there really is one in every crowd.

On Tuesday, Apple released its earnings report, which contained enough gaudy numbers to satisfy just about everyone.

Just about.

Above are the stories that appeared on Yahoo’s finance page within minutes of Apple’s numbers becoming public. For investors, it was a festival of good news.

“Profit rises 31%.” “Earnings top expectations.” “All-time sales record.” And then… “Has Apple Growth Hit The Pause Button?” (Using a DoNotLink url, so feel free.)

I have to say, it’s awesome that an Appleslinger can be so quick on the draw. It pays to be fleet of foot, even if one is light of brain.

Once I got to the page, ancient memories were stirred. Yes, it’s more keen commentary from 24/7 Wall St., who once drew me in with their insightful observation that Apple Watch must be failing because Apple is running ads for it. Makes perfect sense. Continue reading →


28
Oct 15

Searching for the real Steve Jobs

real-steve
ALERT! Steve Jobs is missing.

We can’t find him in the new Steve Jobs movie.

We didn’t find him in the Ashton Kutcher Jobs movie. Or Gibney’s Man In The Machine. Or Pirates of Silicon Valley.

We didn’t find him in the one-man stage show, The Agony And Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs. Fat chance that we’ll find him in the upcoming Steve Jobs opera.

Hell, he was MIA in the biography authorized by Steve himself.

So, where is that rascal hiding? Of all the countless articles, books and movies that aim to enlighten us about Steve, why isn’t there one that gets it right?

I hope you’re sitting down for this — the real Steve Jobs story will arrive on the 12th of Never. Continue reading →


22
Oct 15

PC companies did WHAT?

A wise man in advertising once said that 99% of the world’s failed ads fail before the creative team even gets the assignment.

That’s because strategy is critical. Even great creative work can’t save a bad strategy.

But what we have here is something else.

It’s that rare combination of bad strategy compounded by bad creative, then multiplied by the combined effort of four different companies — three of whom are actually competitors.

This is nothing less than an advertising miracle. Like Halley’s Comet, I doubt that we’ll see anything like it again in our lifetime.

So hold your noses — we’re going in for a closer look. Continue reading →