A sign of life in Apple billboards

Zinger! Bang! Take that, Android!

Apple ran a witty (and wordy) billboard outside the CES Show in Vegas this week, and it became a news story in itself.

If you’re relatively new to Apple, this sudden burst of verbosity must have come as a shock. You might have thought that the non-headline “iPhone XR” was as clever as Apple gets in a billboard.

Is this a whole new Apple? Or just a temporary lapse of humdrum?

Actually, it’s an echo of an earlier Apple, when headlines would both amuse and inform.

Steve Jobs’ goal was never just to sell a product. It was to build a stronger brand, and headlines were a big part of that.

Though he didn’t do the writing, Steve ruthlessly enforced the creative standards. In some way, every ad had to communicate that Apple was smarter, better and even funnier. Not goofy funny, but sophisticated funny.

It’s just a common-sense way to build a brand. In Steve’s eyes, any ad that failed to enhance the Apple brand was a lost opportunity.

For years, I’ve felt that Apple’s outdoor advertising has been a parade of lost opportunities. It’s important to celebrate design, but not at the expense of wit. Apple’s design-centric billboards have virtually no buzz value, largely because they are wordless.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the CES billboard and one of Apple’s typical billboards.

Which makes you think Apple is smarter? Or more inviting? Or more human? And which makes you feel like Apple is simply a Samsung competitor?

This is why I got a little misty-eyed seeing the CES billboard. It was like a tiny window had opened up, revealing a part of Apple’s personality that has withered from lack of use.

I miss the days when Apple felt compelled not just to show us a product—but to make us smile as well.