observatory


18
Jul 14

The relentless (and annoying) pursuit of eyeballs

As a longtime ad guy, I now confess:

I have a love-hate relationship with the products of my own profession.

I love ads that draw me in with intelligence and wit.

I hate ads that barge into my life uninvited.

When I was a wide-eyed junior copywriter, I came to appreciate the code of ethics that guided the high-quality ad agencies.

I was taught that since people don’t actively seek out ads, we had to be respectful of our audience and capture their attention through creativity. It was our job to attract customers, not brow-beat them.

In other words, we tried not to annoy people when our goal was to start a conversation with them.

Honestly, it didn’t feel like a code of ethics. It just felt like common sense. Continue reading →


23
Jun 14

Shooting blanks at Apple

I love the smell of exaggeration in the morning. (Illustration: Fortune.)

With a rising stock price, cheery forecasts from major analysts and growing anticipation for iPhone 6 and iWatch, it’s getting harder and harder to write negative articles about Apple’s prospects.

But, naturally, some people do.

Surprisingly, it was Adam Lashinsky who recently rose to the challenge with his article for Fortune entitled Apple’s newest product: Complexity.

Compelling headline. Compelling visual. The only thing it lacks is a compelling argument.

In fact, it’s an excellent example of how even the smarter Apple journalists can be seduced by the lure of Apple doom-casting. Continue reading →


2
Jun 14

Apple journalism as entertainment

Apple’s rock-solid sales threatened by Android’s slowing sales!(Reality Distortion Field courtesy of Business Insider)

In times gone by, I’d get a kick out of watching any local band play live.

If they were good, I loved it. If they were bad, well — I also loved it. It was strangely entertaining to watch a group try so hard and sound so terrible.

In much the same way, I got a kick out of a Business Insider article over the weekend with the catchy headline The iPhone 6 Had Better Be Amazing And Cheap, Because Apple Is Losing The War To Android.

I hope you enjoy bad bands too.

Kudos to the Business Insider editor, who, in the site’s well-established tradition, has molded a headline that’s simultaneously brain-dead and inflammatory.

Singing lead is writer Jim Edwards. Do watch closely, because Jim is the guy who will give you the most bang for your entertainment buck.

A few bits of his insight and logic: Continue reading →


22
May 14

The online Apple Store’s humble beginnings

The latest numbers show that in 2013, Apple rose to #2 in online retail, second only to Amazon.

Not all that amazing, given that iTunes and App Store sales are now included in Apple’s figures.

But, given the humble beginnings of the Apple Store, it does give me that “how far we’ve come” feeling.

It all started with a baby step back in the “Think different” years, even before the first iMac appeared.

In those days, Apple made its big announcements with multipage inserts in magazines like Time and Newsweek. Apple creating an online store was indeed big news — though not quite big enough to merit its own insert.

The piece you see here was titled “Think different. Really different.” Within its pages, Apple announced three bits of news: Continue reading →


6
May 14

iWatch: Apple’s next naming drama?

Of all the product names in Apple history, by far the least surprising was iPhone.

After iMac, iPhoto, iMovie, iPod and iTunes, Apple had well established its i-rhythm. And the fact that Apple was feverishly working on a phone was one of its worst-kept secrets. For many months leading up to the device’s unveiling, the press was consumed with speculation about what an “iPhone” would be.

Behind the scenes, Steve Jobs was unwavering in his desire to call it iPhone. The fact that it fit well with other i-names was only part of it. In this case, he thought it was important for the name to instantly communicate the category to be disrupted.

Just one flaw in Steve’s plan: Cisco reportedly owned the name. It was already shipping a product called iPhone, though I’ve yet to meet or even hear of anyone who has ever seen one. It was a phone that made phone calls over the Internet, hooking into one’s home network. Continue reading →


21
Apr 14

John Sculley apologizes again—but shouldn’t

John Sculley isn’t exactly a favorite amongst Apple fans. He will forever be the man who sent Steve Jobs into exile.

Given the astronomical success of Apple following Steve’s return in 1997, it’s understandable why Sculley would say it was a “mistake” to send Steve packing. He’s said it before and he just said it again.

Get over it, John.

You may have blundered through that particular period of time, but in a weird way you can actually take credit for Apple’s — and Steve Jobs’ — great success.

Because of you, a young, passionate and inexperienced Steve matured in a way he wouldn’t have otherwise.

Being cast out of Apple was what forced Steve to reassess his life. It was during those years of exile that he matured, learning the skills he was lacking in 1985. Continue reading →


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 →