observatory


2
Dec 16

The case of the runaway headline

distortion2I guess I should be used to it by now.

But hell, it really is amazing how some news organizations twist people’s words to maximize the clicks.

The latest example is a story now running on CNBC.

Two days ago, I posted an article here about Apple’s recent advertising, in which I praised the Bulbs spot as “one of the greatest ads in Apple history.”

But when CNBC wrote their article about my post, they gave it the headline:

Apple’s ‘Think Different’ ad creator says its new commercial uses ‘oldest trick in advertising book’

Yikes. Sounds like a bitter man slamming Apple — when in fact I’m happy guy dripping with admiration. Really.

I did describe Apple’s montage technique as “the oldest trick in the advertising book.” However, I made it clear that this is part of the ad’s genius. It employs a familiar technique to create something fresh and exciting — what I believe to be one of Apple’s all-time best.

To its credit, CNBC’s article includes my full explanation. To its discredit, my full explanation lives under that horribly misleading headline.

Continue reading →


30
Nov 16

Apple ad blitz: four hits and a cringe

mostIs it my imagination, or has Apple been unusually active in the ad department lately?

Taken together, the company’s latest spots offer some hope for its advertising future — and then a warning as well.

Here are the ads, with a few observations to go with them.

 

 

Holiday spot: Frankie’s Holiday

There is no shortage of broadcast ads during the holidays. Or, I should say, there is no shortage of ads begging us to spend our holiday money, often in the most ungraceful ways.

It’s because of this advertising glut that we can better appreciate companies that avoid the hard sell and make the effort to add a little magic to the holidays. Continue reading →


25
Oct 16

The beautifully annoying Siri Remote

puck-remote2

This is an article one year in the making.

It’s not that I’m such a slow writer. (Well, maybe a little of that.) It’s because I’ve been patient and forgiving. I’ve tried to adapt, learn new tricks and think positive. But at some point I have to face the fact—

I will never love the Siri Remote for Apple TV.

In fact, I think it’s earned a place in the Apple Hall of Infamy, right alongside one of the company’s classic aberrations: the hockey puck mouse that shipped with the original iMac. Continue reading →


30
Sep 16

My visit to the Apple Museum

img_8038There is a long list of must-do things for anyone who visits Prague.

Like the Charles Bridge, built in 1538. Or the Prague Castle, largest of the world’s ancient castles, dating back to the 9th century.

But hell, Prague is also home to the world’s only Apple Museum — which dates all the way back to 2015. And, as an Apple enthusiast, I do have to keep my priorities straight.

So, yes, I did visit the Apple Museum on my first day in the Czech Republic last week. (Do I get any points if I walked across the Charles Bridge to get there?) I even sat down with the museum’s manager days later to learn a bit more.

Now that I’m back in New York, here are some photos and observations from my little adventure. Continue reading →


3
Sep 16

Apple’s self-inflicted naming dilemma

iphone-names2Uh-oh. I sense a disturbance in the Force.

iPhone 7 is coming. And if the rumors are true, the logic of iPhone naming will be soon be stress-tested.

Before we dig in, it’s important to note that the name of the new device is unconfirmed at this point. We have only an assumption based on iPhone naming history.

But that history is actually the problem.

According to the Sacred Scrolls, the iPhone model number only changes when the device gets a redesign. Yet the leaks indicate that iPhone 7 will be more of a “6SS” than a 7. That is, the only changes to the previous model will be internal.

The big rethink apparently arrives in 2017.

If Apple now unveils an iPhone 7, does this mean we’ll skip 7S next year and go directly to iPhone 8? Or will a 7S represent the next great rethink? The bigger question is: are we doomed to wander forever in a sea of letters and numbers representing varying degrees of newness?

If you’re starting to think this conversation is silly, I’m with you 100%. It’s silly because this whole S business was never necessary in the first place. In fact, it’s actually worked against Apple’s best interests.

To better appreciate this self-inflicted wound, let’s do a little forensic work. Continue reading →


8
Jul 16

Heroes of simplicity: Seoul’s Ted Chung

OB-JK962_chung0_G_20100801165514

Here’s another hero of simplicity whose story is part of my new book, Think Simple.

One of the reasons I was excited to write another book was that it gave me the opportunity to look at the power of simplicity beyond the world of technology. I had conversations with a fascinating group of business leaders in different industries and countries.

In the process, I found inspiration in places I did not expect. One such place was the credit card business in South Korea.

Ted Chung is Vice Chairman and CEO of Hyundai Card, a financial division of the larger Hyundai Motor Group. He was brought into the company after leading the turnaround of a Hyundai factory in Mexico—and Hyundai Card was in serious need of a turnaround. Projections indicated it was about to lose more than a billion dollars that year.

Ted is not your typical corporate leader. He’s even less typical as a financial company leader, as he came to the job without deep experience in the industry.

But Ted knows a lot about running and inspiring a company, and he is a true believer in the power of simplicity. Continue reading →


6
Jun 16

Heroes of simplicity: Blue Man Group

My new book, Think Simple, will be published tomorrow. While my previous book focused on the power of simplicity as practiced by Steve Jobs and Apple, the new one goes further. I sought out more than 40 practitioners of simplicity in a range of companies around the world. Here’s one of them. Or, actually, three of them…

bmg

In searching for my heroes of simplicity, I hoped to find the most colorful stories. This one had more color than anticipated.

Blue Man Group was founded by Chris Wink, Phil Stanton and Matt Goldman. For those who aren’t familiar, BMG creates entertainment experiences. It’s hard to explain, but amazing to see. The show is all fun—combining music, performance art, electronics, strange instruments, audience participation and general mind-bending.

Blue Man Group started in 1987 as a three-man street act in New York City. Now they have permanent theaters in five U.S. cities and Berlin, and have performed for more than 30 million people around the world. Continue reading →


6
Jun 16

Has Apple lost its simplicity?

Last week, I wrote an article for The Guardian with the above title. It was a question, not a conclusion, and I tried to offer a thoughtful opinion. Sadly, The Guardian chose to give it a click-bait headline that contradicted my point of view. So, for the record, here is the complete article as originally intended.

 Four years ago, I wrote a book about Apple and the power of simplicity.

It was the result of my observation, having worked with Steve Jobs as his ad agency creative director in the Think different years, that Apple’s stellar growth was rooted in Steve’s love of simplicity.

This love—you might call it obsession—could be seen in Apple’s hardware, software, packaging, marketing, retail store design, even the company’s internal organization.

apple-ii-simplicity

Even back in the 70s, Apple was professing its love for simplicity

But that was four years ago.

Though Apple’s customers remain fiercely loyal, the natives are getting restless. A growing number of people are sensing that Tim Cook’s Apple isn’t as simple as Steve Jobs’s Apple. They see complexity in expanding product lines, confusing product names, and the products themselves.

Is this just perception, or is it reality? Has Apple developed a problem with simplicity? Or is it simply maturing as one should expect from a global company?

It’s difficult to be objective because Apple has become the world’s most overanalyzed company. It’s created passionate fans and passionate detractors.

Maybe I can help. My experience with Steve Jobs has led me to admire Apple—but I also believe in tough love. This is a good time to put emotions aside and take a cold, hard look at Apple’s current “state of simplicity.” Continue reading →


3
Jun 16

Heroes of simplicity: Ron Johnson

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 goes further. I sought out more than 40 practitioners of simplicity in a range of companies around the world. Here’s one of them…

ronjohnsonIf you follow Apple, you probably know the Ron Johnson story. He’s the guy Steve Jobs brought in when he decided that Apple needed a retail presence.

Steve was impressed with Ron’s resume. After all, Ron was the guy who transformed Target from a fledgling department store to something more contemporary. He turned it into a cooler place to shop.

So Ron put together a team and worked with Steve to develop the Apple Store concept, and he credits the success of the stores to the power of simplicity. I spent a morning with Ron talking about the days when the Apple Store was just a germ of an idea.

He explained that a clear mission is an essential element of simplicity, and so the first order of business was creating a mission for the Apple Stores. It was wonderfully stark: “Enhance lives.”

That’s what Apple products were about, and the Apple Stores would be the place where customers come face-to-face with the Apple brand.

When a company has a simple mission, decisions come easy. Continue reading →


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 →