observatory


17
Apr 17

The Great iPhone Naming Opportunity of 2017

 

For seven years, iPhone naming has ping-ponged between numbers and S’s.

Then, last year we got the iPhone SE, with a moniker that lives outside that naming scheme.

Combining the latest product rumors with what Apple has “trained” us to expect in naming, many expect the 2017 lineup to include an iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, iPhone 8 and iPhone SE.

Clever, Apple! Your master plan is working flawlessly!

Year after year, you ingeniously fed us those bad iPhone names, knowing that we’d come expect this level of complexity. Only then could you shock the daylights out of us with a stunningly simpler set of names that actually make sense.

[We now return you to reality.]

If you’re a regular here, you know my feeling about the whole “S” thing. It’s a perfect example of a company shooting itself in the marketing foot. Continue reading →


6
Apr 17

Refreshing the brand, extreme edition

As an ad guy, I’ve had the fun of developing brand campaigns for many major companies.

Trust me, there is no standard process.

However, it’s safe to say that the first task is for all parties to agree on what the brand stands for. In theory, this should be easy, yet many of the biggest companies find it perplexing.

(See my story about Microsoft’s internal brand struggles three years ago.)

The who-are-we debate can rage for weeks or months before creative work can actually begin.

I had night-and-day experiences developing brand campaigns for Dell and Apple. At Dell, the strategy phase went on for months without reaching a decision. The process became so arduous, the process simply sputtered to a halt. Continue reading →


24
Feb 17

The wacky world of legal disclaimers

Seriously — an article about legal type in advertising?

Granted, the topic may seem a bit dry. But hang with me. Those microscopic lines of text often have their own sordid backstory, filled with intrigue, deception and blatant bending of the rules.

Even Apple gets into the act.

So, where to begin? Exhibit A, above, is taken from a Rate.com commercial now running incessantly on CNN.

We can all agree it contains a boatload of legal type, and that no earthly being will ever read more than a few words of it.

This may be within the rules, but clearly it is far outside the bounds of common sense.

Which leads one to ask: what are the rules anyway? Hard to say, but every TV network does have a screening process to ensure that ads meet their standards for ethics and accuracy.

Personally, I think common sense makes an excellent standard. To be fair to marketers and consumers, legal disclaimers should pass three tests.

1. Legibility
2. Honesty
3. Brevity

Rate.com grossly and obscenely violates two out of three. (Kudos for the honesty!) Continue reading →


3
Feb 17

The making of Apple’s HAL

I used to devote hours to feverishly writing up my annual Super Bowl ad review. And then, one day, the thrill was gone.

Between the lack of surprise (so many spots are released early now) and the general mediocrity, it became more chore than fun.

That said, I refuse to lose my Big Game spirit. So — how about a little story from Apple’s Super Bowl past?

What follows is the tale of HAL: Apple’s 1999 Super Bowl commercial starring the malevolent computer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

HAL became Apple’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1985, when the ill-conceived Lemmings commercial ran. That, as you know, was the follow-up to the previous year’s amazing 1984 commercial — arguably the greatest commercial of all time.

Read on if you’re interested in learning how ads were often born in Steve Jobs’s Apple. The process was not at all like what you find in most big companies today (including Apple). Continue reading →


24
Jan 17

The lawlessness of political advertising

Television setEvery election year, I am re-amazed by one of the more amazing things I learned in my advertising life.

That is, there is one set of rules for consumer ads and no set of rules for political ads.

Want to run a TV ad for your toilet cleanser? It will have to be cleared by the network’s “ethics and standards” group. No false or misleading claims allowed about your product or your competitor’s.

Want to run a TV commercial for your political candidate? No lawmen here, so have at it. Lies, half-truths and conspiracy theories are welcome.

While the networks act as a watchdog for consumer advertising, the Federal Trade Commission actually brings action against violators. They have a nice little set of punishments, including cease-and-desist orders, fines, frozen assets and compensation for those affected by fraud.

On their website, the FTC says,“The FTC looks especially closely at advertising claims that can affect consumers’ health or their pocketbooks.”

Hmm. It’s not like a presidential candidate can affect our health or pocketbook, right? Continue reading →


9
Dec 16

Apple: earning the wrath of Steve

angry-steve-jobs

You’ve been working on this HOW long?

Steve Jobs didn’t judge people solely on the quality of their work. He also put a high value on time — and wasting time was an unforgivable sin.

I saw this more than once in our regular marketing meetings. Someone would confidently present their ideas, Steve would ponder for a moment, and then let it out: “That’s it? You could have done this one day after our last meeting. What have you been doing for the past two weeks?”

It would then fall upon the offending party to put up their best defense. I don’t remember that ever working.

Of course, it was entirely possible that this person had been slaving away every day, at great personal sacrifice. But if the work didn’t show time well spent, Steve’s fury was unleashed.

Fast forward to Apple’s recent product unveiling. Continue reading →


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 →