If you see any of these 5 warning signs, Apple has lost its magic, sell your shares

“Bob Hoffman is pessimistic about the future of Apple (AAPL) without Steve Jobs at the helm,” Philip Elmer-DeWitt reports for Fortune. “Hoffman believes that genius is, in a word, nontransferable. He thinks it likely that Apple will continue to shine for a few years while the initiatives that Jobs started are still in the pipeline, but then, as he puts it, ‘the startling brilliance will slowly fade.'”

Over on The Ad Contrarian, Hoffman writes, “The consensus seemed to be that Jobs built a strong culture, hired smart people, and taught a way of thinking that will serve Apple well in the future. The story line went like this– while Jobs will be missed, he is no longer essential to the future of the company and it will go on brilliantly without him. I don’t buy this for a second. Genius is non-transferable.”

Here are some clues to look for in Apple’s advertising that will indicate that dull hands are grabbing at the wheel:

1. Creeping Brandism: The Apple brand was built bottom-up. That is, the products defined the brand. Virtually every Apple ad was about a product, not the brand (okay, there was “Think Different” but that didn’t last.) Keep an eye out for the erosion of this discipline.

2. Agency change: Vapid marketing people relegated to the background all these years by Jobs’ dominance may suddenly start flexing. They wouldn’t dare contradict Jobs’ legacy, but they could accomplish the same thing by undermining the agency.

3. The Tortured Logic of Account Planning: Look for ads about you the consumer instead of Apple products. Look for moronic online “engagement” gimmicks. Or look for social media pandering.

4. Complications: Part of the brilliance of Apple advertising has been its simplicity. Keep an eye out for complicated ideas or ads with more than one product.

5. Media: Apple has used online media sparingly. The preponderance of its advertising has been conducted in traditional media — TV, print, and outdoor. Watch to see if Apple suddenly starts going all trendy and new age in its media choices.

Hoffman writes, “If you start seeing any of these signs coming out of Cupertino, sell your shares. Advertising will be an early indicator of whether people without vision and taste are moving in at Apple.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Dale E.” for the heads up.]


  1. I don’t think advertising is going to give us a clue about whether Apple is going to fall. I’ll be looking for much bigger things. Like Google buying MMI. When Apple starts wasting its cash on stupid purchases, I’ll start to worry.

  2. He’s right about advertising being an indicator of taste. Apple has been winning _that_ contest forever, too. However, taste _is_ transferable. So is quality. And giving a shit. Apple, IMHO, will continue to have taste, and continue to show how simple and good design means so much more than just looking like a million bucks.

  3. When I read the title I thought, “Ya, ya, ya…”. When I read the article I had to say,”yes, yes’ yes…”

    When the marketing/accounting MBAs start to take over, Camelot is lost.

  4. Phil has made an interesting point – Steve OWNED the message – and there didn’t seem to be anyone on his immediate team that will take over the role. Now that Steve has left – who will fill it? Sadly, it might be someone that wants to make their mark (like a dog peeing on a tree).

    Phil may have actually found Apple’s Achilles’ heel – is there someone at Apple that has the shiny brass ones to manage the message?

    1. I could see Scott Forstall being the new message guy. He’s not exactly on Steve’s level but he seems more charismatic then the other top executives.
      I like Tim, he seems like he’s really good at his job but he doesn’t have a lot of personality.

  5. Well, unless Tim fires the ad company, they’re not going to shift gears anytime soon. And it’s not like Tim isn’t aware of and in tune with that type of vision. I think Tim will be just as quick to stomp on stupidity, but I don’t think he’ll be as blunt as Steve could be.
    And by the way, the Think Different campaign went on for a couple of years if I remember correctly.

  6. So, what is he saying? If even just one of those five cardinal rules is broken, Apple will jump track and investors should start dumping their shares. I fail to see how a great company that turns into merely a good company is enough for shareholders to start dumping their shares. Even if Apple were just a good company it would still be better than most of the companies out there.

    Couldn’t a major acquisition in the future bring in more investor interest into Apple to make its share price rise. I know that this is all theoretical stuff, but telling people about future signs as a reason to dump shares just seems to be a bit extreme. Apple is becoming a rather wealthy tech company and it seems possible for Apple to start making its own rules to keep the revenue rolling in. Maybe it just scares me to think that Apple as a company can only survive as long as one particular person is pulling all the strings.

    1. Thanks, was about to say the same thing. And even if he wasn’t chairman, I’m pretty sure his vision has already “written” the next 10 years of Apple.
      Also, Apple didn’t get where they are without Jobs surrounding himself by the cream of the crop. As if they’re all going to go schizo now.

  7. Overall I agree with this article, but I think it’s hard to say how much SJ had to do with the advertising. Obviously he had a great deal of influence over the style of the entire company. But he must have trusted Phil Schiller to have him in that position for so many years.

    The other thing I didn’t necessarily agree with was the part about the ads always being simple and featuring products. Their two most famous ads (1984 and Think Different) had very little, if any, product placement. The more recent ones do, but the most memorable did not.

  8. Ah, yes, one more iteration of the “key man” theory.

    We have this perfectly silly idea that each of us wakes up every morning wondering about what the “key man” thinks or does.
    And somehow, apparently we just can’t function unless we are able to plug in the key man’s ethernet cable into our ear and download his “brilliance”

    Affects companies, governments (especially governments)

    Steve Jobs brilliant? Absolutely he is. But there is no possible way that a company like Apple could satisfy the needs and wants of millions of people alone.

    Am I in any way discounting his efforts and his mind?

    Of course not, but all companies, governments and especially families function on a day to day basis based upon the shared values and specific daily efforts of strong individuals who are traveling on the same path!

    Cook, Ives, etc. Thousands more right down to the individual guy on the retail level.

  9. I said it first, now the reality is beginning to set in: “…Apple will continue to shine for a few years while the initiatives that Jobs started are still in the pipeline, but then, as he puts it, ‘the startling brilliance will slowly fade.”

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