Any observer of cultural trends will tell you that civilization is marching eagerly in the direction of simplicity. Apple has no patent on the concept. Let's give intelligent marketing people credit where credit is due, too. Most are already striving for simplicity to reap its obvious benefits. So why is it that so few ideas strike us as simple?
While simplicity is the end product, the process of arriving there is anything but simple. Clear creative work can only come from a clear creative strategy, the correct distillation of the product benefits and a willingness to throw away ideas that some people hold very dear. That's where the ability to soothe and reassure comes in very, very handy.
Here are two case studies that demonstrate how simplicity can win the hearts of customers – and make some history along the way.
Case study: Intel Centrino. Not your father's chip.
Intel earned a place in marketing history for its maverick thinking back in the 80s. Intel Inside is still taught in college courses for the way it literally built a company. This simple idea taught consumers to believe that an ingredient (the processor) was actually more important than the product (the computer). Intel's business model didn't change for over 20 years, and then something different happened. They created Centrino.
Unlike the 286, 386, Pentium and other previous Intel products, Centrino was not a chip. It was a "chipset" including wireless, advanced power management, and other capabilities. This would be the first time that Intel would be asking customers to buy into a platform instead of a chip. They were still providing an ingredient, but this time it was a far more complicated one. The marketing challenge would be more complicated as a result.
Intel is a company run by engineers, even in the marketing group. They're intensely proud of their technological feats and intent on explaining every last feature. In Intel-land, there is also a tremendous fear of going against the expressed wishes of management. Mix in an ad agency in fear of losing the business for a variety of reasons – and the creative environment was less than ideal.
The simple idea
Fortunately, the laws of simplicity apply even in thorny situations. All we had to do was figure out what 90% of the facts we should throw overboard and what 10% deserved our focus. From a consumer's point of view, the really cool thing about Centrino was its built-in wireless capabilities. All of its other techy features were givens in the modern world, and could easily be positioned to support a better wireless experience.
The simple execution
So wirelessness was the big idea. But how should it be expressed? How could we make it clear that Centrino was the key element to enjoying the many benefits of going wireless? This is where we asked Intel to make a leap. For the first time, we were asking them to sell their engineering marvel as a lifestyle instead of a product. Rather than talk about the zillions of transistors we could fit on a chip, we'd talk about the benefits of a life in which wireless connections were everywhere. After all the months of briefing, learning and creative exploration, the most complicated product in the history of Intel came down to a single word: Unwire.
The Unwire campaign for Centrino was the most successful launch in Intel history. Simultaneously introduced around the world, Unwire established the Centrino sub-brand virtually overnight. Promoting a computing platform as a lifestyle allowed us to execute the idea in ways Intel had never previously considered. Working with Wired, for example, Intel subsidized a 64-page supplementary issue of the magazine titled Unwired – in which Centrino was present throughout in advertising and editorial.
Case study: iMac. Betting the company.
The year was 1998. Steve Jobs had made his return to Apple and his first order of business was to get Apple off life-support. The Think different campaign had set the stage and now it was time to deliver on the products that fulfilled this brand proclamation. In fact, there was literally no option. Either this plan was going to work or there wasn't going to be a second chance. Steve Jobs had flatly declared "we're betting the company" on the success of iMac.
iMac wasn't like any computer the world had ever seen. At first exposure, it could be a shock. Reactions ranged from "wow" to "you have to be kidding." But everyone had a reaction. It was the first translucent, non-boxy, conversation-piece computer and by looks alone it hinted that change was afoot. The mission was to get people past their initial reactions. We had to communicate that this was the first computer designed to make it easy to get onto the Internet, the first computer designed to make computing easy in general, and a full-blown Mac to boot.
By now, the public perception of a personal computer was pretty much carved in stone. PCs looked a certain way. PCs acted a certain way. As always, our mission had obstacles on both sides of the equation: changing the minds of a doubting audience – and changing the expectations of Steve Jobs, who had a check list of product features he wanted to expose.
The simple idea
Thinking about the things an iMac could do and the things all Macs could do, it didn't take long to arrive at an obvious conclusion. The simple idea for iMac was simplicity itself. That's what had been missing from PCs before and that's what iMac delivered on. iMac also had the unique ability to bring something to the party that no other computer could: a personality. It was simple, fun and human. You almost wanted to hug it.
The simple execution
PCs and simplicity were things that didn't go together in the public mind. Personality was even more unimaginable. The mission of our advertising was to shake up the perceptions. iMac was launched with a 16-page insert in newsweeklies and other magazines. (Hard to admit, but the apple.com website wasn't really used for such things back then.) The many premium billboard locations Apple had secured for the Think different campaign were switched over to clear, simple iMac billboards. Jeff Goldblum, for his intelligence and wit, was recruited to be the voice and ultimately the on-camera personality for iMac.
iMac quickly became the single best-selling computer model, not only in the history of Apple but in the history of computers. I lost count way back at the 10 million mark.