JCPenney: A fatal lack of bravery

I swear, I try to avert my eyes—but I keep getting drawn into the sad saga of JCPenney. Why is that?

Morbid fascination? Schadenfreude? Personal guilt? (I had a hand in two years’ worth of JCP’s ads on the Oscars.)

Actually, I’m not that deep. It’s just that JCP’s failure has been more like a decade-long crumble, and it has such great lessons to offer.

Once “America’s Favorite Store,” JCP has now filed for bankruptcy protection. A single share of JCP stock, once priced over $83, goes for 18 cents as I write this.

It’s tempting to cut JCP a break, since the current crisis has hurt so many companies. But—this crisis only pushed JCP over the edge of the cliff where it was already perched.

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The first Mac’s speechwriter, unmasked!

January 24th was the 35th anniversary of Macintosh, bless its little soul.

In reading a number of articles, I got to enjoy the original Macintosh intro event all over again. It’s a vivid reminder that Steve Jobs’ showmanship and obsession with detail was in full bloom way back at the beginning.

One of the those details was “the speech.” (About 3:05 into the video.). Steve wanted to have the first Mac to speak for itself—

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’d like to share with you a maxim I thought of the first time I met an IBM mainframe: NEVER TRUST A COMPUTER YOU CAN’T LIFT! Obviously, I can talk, but right now I’d like to sit back and listen. So, it is with considerable pride that I introduce a man who’s been like a father to me… Steve Jobs.

That made me smile, and it got me wondering: who actually wrote these words. Steve? One of his minions?

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Every ad year has a low point

It’s that time again. We could talk about the best campaign of the year—but where’s the fun in that?

For your amusement, let’s plunge directly to the bottom.

I could ridicule the Liberty Mutual campaign for the reasons others have cited (and I will!). But I’m more curious about how an agency like Goodby Silverstein—long known for smart, award-winning work—could ever have churned out such dribble.

The obvious explanation is that Liberty Mutual is a terrible client.

There’s a saying in the biz that “clients get the advertising they deserve.” Bolstering this theory is the fact that the pre-Goodby advertising for Liberty Mutual (from agency Havas) was equally detestable.

However, this hardly excuses Goodby. What they’ve done for Liberty Mutual looks like a total surrender to somebody’s uncreative and amateurish instincts.

Whoever the culprit may be, this is a matter that demands attention from creative law enforcement.

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Sugarcoating the Apple agency layoffs

I am eternally grateful that no one ever asked me to write a PR release for a company in trouble.

It’s a thankless job, and nobody believes what you write—but write you must.

That’s why so many surrender from the start, dipping into a reservoir of classics like, “He’s leaving to pursue other opportunities.”

This was the challenge served up to the spokeswoman at Apple’s agency, Media Arts Lab, to explain the recent layoffs of 50 people.

Thankfully, she didn’t ask us to believe that those 50 simultaneously decided to pursue other opportunities. What she did ask us to believe was something equally absurd.

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iPhone is dead! Long live Apple Phone!

Somewhere in an alternate universe, Tim Cook is busy rehearsing his September 10th event.

He’s nervous. He’s about to do something incredibly bold. Maybe even crazy.

Going through his show, he pauses when he gets to the iPhone branding slide, imagining how the audience’s collective jaw will drop.

Despite the rumors, there is no number 11. There’s no X, R, S, SE, Plus or Max in sight. And that’s just the tip of this boldness iceberg. 

Alternate Tim takes a deep breath, then drops the bomb.

“Our new iPhones are so new, so totally amazing, so far beyond any iPhone we’ve made before, we’re not even calling them iPhones anymore,” he says. “Meet the new Apple Phones.”

After a 21-year run, the i is finally dead.

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A dog’s breakfast: welcome to apple.com

Help. I feel queasy. I visited apple.com and did something I deeply regret—I opened my eyes.

It’s half disappointment and half disbelief. How does the company that wrote the book on website simplicity unleash a home page that’s so amateurishly busy?

For those who celebrate Apple’s illustrious history as a world leader in design, creativity and smart marketing—it’s a shocker.

That’s because it stands in stark contrast to the website principles enforced by Steve Jobs.

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Farewell Jony, and farewell Apple of old

Jony, Jony, Jony—now look what you’ve done.

With one little “I quit,” you dragged all of us across the line separating Apple Classic and New Apple.

We had one foot over that line already with Steve’s passing. This just makes it final—the last spiritual connection to the old Apple is now behind us.

Not that your exit is a surprise. You certainly dropped enough hints. Thank you for staying long enough to keep things stable in the post-Steve era.

But yeah, it does hurt a little to see you go off to LoveFrom. Not the career move—I’m talking about the company name. Wish you’d thought a little harder on that one.

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The ghost of Apple Card past

On March 25th, Tim Cook unveiled Apple Card—”the future of credit cards.”

WTF? Fiasco! Yet another Apple blunder! Has Tim Cook lost it? Steve Jobs would never do this!!

Well … not so fast. The truth is, Steve Jobs actually did do this. At least he tried to.

The proof is likely hidden in a secret vault buried deep inside Apple Park. Fortunately, it’s also right here on my archive drive.

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Apple’s long journey to the workplace

What a difference a few decades make.

During the 1985 Super Bowl broadcast, Apple followed up its previous—and widely acclaimed—Super Bowl commercial, 1984, with a little disaster called Lemmings.

Designed to seduce business customers with “The Macintosh Office,” it actually insulted its intended target by depicting them as, uh … Lemmings.

34 years later, Apple is again making its pitch to business. This time, it’s a bit more down to earth—and infinitely more convincing.

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AirPower: a fiasco beyond imagination

If there was a Beginner’s Guide To Corporate Screwups, surely it would explore the tried-and-true ways for companies to shoot themselves in the foot.

Release buggy software. Fail to protect customer data. Run a bad ad. See your CEO arrested. So many possibilities!

But AirPower is not your stereotypical screwup. It’s something far grander. Never in history has Apple announced a product, gone silent about it for 18 months, and then killed it before it ever shipped.

At least it proves that Apple can be a true innovator in the area of self-immolation.

“Freedom to fail” is actually a liberating thing, essential to the Apple culture. In an internal meeting, I once heard Steve Jobs defend Apple’s large cash reserve by saying, “It gives us the freedom to jump as high as we want. If we fail, we will always have solid ground beneath our feet.”

Unfortunately, AirPower isn’t the “liberating” kind of failure. It’s just shocking and sad.

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