observatory


14
Apr 14

CNN meets Captain Obvious

CNN isn’t in the comedy business. At least not purposefully.

But I have to say, yesterday’s CNN home page headline did make me laugh.

After all this coverage of the missing Malaysian airliner, with pretty much every story in the last four weeks centered on the need to find the black boxes, CNN posted a big, bold headline:

Official: Black boxes crucial to solving mystery

With insightful reporting like this, CNN should be back on the top of the ratings in no time.

[Update 4/16/14]

Big thanks to Sorin for contributing the following photo. Apparently CNN’s headline writer moonlights in the captioning dept.


21
Mar 14

One of Steve Jobs’ greatest talents: caring

Before iPhone, there was another tool Steve Jobs used to great effect.

It’s always fun to read stories about people’s chance encounters with Steve Jobs.

A recent one came from an anonymous person who “had a friend” who had such an encounter.

Okay, it does sound a bit suspicious. We all know there’s a lot of fantasy out there. However, I find this story to be perfectly plausible — mainly because it’s quite consistent with the everyday Steve behavior I witnessed myself.

As this story goes, the “friend” — who worked for a talent agency — hung up on Steve Jobs twice because he thought he was being pranked. But in fact it was Steve, calling to force a change in Justin Long’s schedule so he could shoot some new Mac vs. PC ads.

That simple phone call (or several calls, in this case) illuminates a side of Steve that most people don’t think about. That is: he cared. Continue reading →


14
Mar 14

Samsung: the Jekyll-and-Hyde of advertising

Wow, pretty great ad for the Paralympics from Samsung.

The kid is charming. The editing and music are great. The concept is great. The theme line — “Sport doesn’t care” — has attitude and well captures the spirit of the event.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Not a thing.

And that, in a weird way, is exactly what’s wrong.

Here’s Samsung with a high-quality, on-target, beautifully executed commercial. And it’s the same Samsung that just a short time ago let loose a spot with a good chance of becoming the worst ad of the century. (Early to predict, but this one could easily appall viewers for another 86 years.) Take a look if you haven’t seen it already: Continue reading →


6
Mar 14

Microsoft vs. Apple: the strategy gap

Microsoft’s newly minted Chief Strategy Officer, Mark Penn

Most people judge ads by what they see. Good ad, bad ad, end of story.

Of course, it’s a little deeper than that.

As is often pointed out around these parts, there’s a little thing called “strategy” — which is hashed out before creative teams start creating.

Historically, Apple has been very smart about strategy, while Microsoft has been very … shall we say … un-smart.

Now that Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella has appointed Mark Penn to the position of Chief Strategy Officer, it’s a whole new ballgame, right?

Not so fast.

From what we know of Mark Penn, the gap between the quality of strategy at Apple and Microsoft isn’t about to shrink.

For starters, Penn has actually been Microsoft’s Executive VP, Advertising and Strategy, since mid-2012. He’s the architect of the company’s tasteless, cutesy and much-maligned “Don’t Get Scroogled” campaign. Continue reading →


24
Feb 14

Samsung and Apple: two flavors of innovation

What exactly defines an innovator these days?

Has Apple lost its title of “most innovative” because it hasn’t changed the world since 2010? Or does Samsung now own that title, even though it hasn’t changed the world since … uh, when was that again?

Obviously, innovation comes in many flavors.

Sometimes it’s about creating revolutions, other times it’s about adding features. Sometimes it’s about creating things that people fall in love with, other times it’s simply about creating things.

It’s because of the Samsung vs. Apple innovation debate that I’m so eager to see what will happen with the smartwatch category.

For the first time, no one can accuse Samsung of copying Apple as they did with iPhone and iPad. It literally beat Apple to the punch on this one.

When (and if) Apple unveils an iWatch, the world will finally see — in the starkest terms — the true difference between Samsung innovation and Apple innovation. Continue reading →


3
Feb 14

2014 Ad Bowl: a festival of “meh”

If you were expecting to be disappointed with this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads, well … you weren’t disappointed.

At this point, the excitement of Super Bowl advertising is more memory than reality. Could it be that more advertisers are being safer now that the cost of these ads has skyrocketed to $8 million per minute?

Whatever the reason, this Super Bowl didn’t produce many memorable moments — on or off the field.

The formula ads were more visible than ever. When advertisers play to a massive audience like this, we get an overdose of patriotism, kids, animals and celebrities.

However, one of my biggest Super Bowl disappointments came prior to Super Sunday. In the never-ending quest to create more buzz, many companies are now revealing their ads a whole week before the game. This year, I counted twenty of them.

These advertisers have taken away what used to be one of the most fun things about watching the Super Bowl — finding surprises in every commercial break. It’s like reading spoilers before you see a movie. Continue reading →


27
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 →


23
Jan 14

Apple takes the lofty route for iPad

There are a thousand ways Apple could have gone in creating a new iPad campaign.

Humor? Nope. Intelligent wit? Uh-uh. Technology superiority? No thanks. Philosophy? Bingo!

With the 90-second Verses commercial above (now officially a campaign with two new 30-second cut-downs, Light Verse and Sound Verse), Apple is taking the high road. We get the 1989 Robin Williams quoting Walt Whitman from Dead Poets Society.

Though the spot seemed unexpected for many, Apple has been making noises in this direction for some time now. Continue reading →


13
Jan 14

Technology, religion, fanboys and Walt

Touchy, touchy.

Seems like former Wall Street Journal technology reviewer Walt Mossberg isn’t in the mood for aggressive comments these days.

In his first article at re/code, he “schools” those who are intolerant of others’ opinions and exhibit religious devotion to their chosen platform.

While Walt tries to be objective, two subtle clues hint at the source of his frustration.

One is the headline: It’s Not a Church, It’s Just an Apple Store. The other is his main visual: New York’s iconic Apple Store Fifth Avenue.

I don’t really mind that Walt makes Apple fans the poster children for his article. You have to get those clicks somehow.

Didn’t we cover this Apple-as-religion thing years ago at Scoopertino? (click to see)

And it’s not like this is anything new. Badly-mannered zealots have been among us, on every platform, for decades — just as they have been in politics. It’s actually more of a human thing than a technology thing.

What’s out of whack for me is Walt’s very first paragraph. For a guy whose life revolves around technology, he expresses a surprisingly cynical view of technology companies: Continue reading →


30
Dec 13

Samsung: victim of its own DNA

Oh, to be an electronics behemoth.

With its infrastructure and reach, Samsung has the power to build products in infinite categories and ship billions of products worldwide.

However, there is something very wrong with one particular strand in its corporate DNA. It’s the one labeled “marketing savvy.”

Here’s a company with a number of hit products in the mobile space and an advertising budget several times that of Apple. Yet, despite a few creative moments, something deep inside keeps pulling it back to advertising mediocrity.

See Exhibit A above. This is the newly released 2.5-minute piece being deservedly slammed as one of the worst commercials ever made. Continue reading →